Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spotted: American University Students Seeking Off-Campus Housing

At the end of second semester most college sophomore’s get the itch. They get tired of living “the dorm life” where they eat, sleep, do homework, and watch T.V. in the same small room. Being away from home is very freeing, but moving into your very own house takes that freedom to a whole new level.

“Even though I’ve only been at AU for a year, I began to feel tired of the dorms. There isn’t a lot of space in the bedrooms and the lounge is often full of people trying to use the same sink and stove” said freshman Camille David.

Students move off college campuses for a variety of reasons, including wanting more freedom from the dorm restrictions set up by RA’s, more space, and the intrigue of living with friends. Cost is one of the main reasons driving AU students into the local residential area.
According to American’s Housing and Dining Program, the cost of room and board for undergraduate students is approximately $12,930 for the nine months in the academic year. This averages to about $1437 per month. This number is much higher than the cost of the surrounding DC real estate available to AU students. According to local landlord, Sylvana Dias, a home in Tenleytown or AU Park averages about $5,000 per month and can fit six students comfortably. This equals out to each student paying just under $1,000 a month to live just blocks from their classes, a bargain compared to the skyrocketing room and board costs.

There is also a lack of on-campus housing at American that is forcing more students to move off. Most colleges have expanded greatly over the past decade and American University is one of them. American currently has 6,023 undergraduate students enrolled along with about 2,000 graduate students. College Board statistics report that in 2007, American took a freshman class of 1,287 and in 2008 a class of 1,580, an almost 23 percent increase.

“Large publically funded institutions are caught between increasing enrollments and less income from investment…meaning less money to build houses so many students must live off campus” said AU Spokesperson David Taylor.

This is happening on a nationwide level. Northeastern University in Boston for example, had recently shelved plans to build a new dorm that would house an additional 600 students. Also the University of Maryland is experiencing an on campus housing shortage that is forcing more and more upperclassman who desire to be on campus into off- campus residences, adding to the competition that students are already facing, according to the National Multi-Housing Council.

Unfortunately for the thousands of college students across the nation who look to move off-campus during their four years of their college education, there are many difficulties associated with student housing rentals including financial barriers, high demand for houses with a low supply, and students being in direct competition with the many families that live in surrounding areas.

According to Dias, the market for housing rentals in the Washington DC area is very competitive among college students and it is fairly easy for a landlord to choose a good group of students from a large pile of applications.

“Many of the properties that are available in the area are very nice, and we [property managers] have to be selective when choosing who is going to live there. We do contact references and perform credit checks to make sure that the group is right for the home” Dias said.

Students such as Christina Friedberg, a senior Public Relations major and member of the dance team at American, have faced financial problems on their housing search. The current economy is not providing job security, which means it is difficult to sign a lease for an extended period of time.

“I just don’t know where I am going to end up working. It could be in DC, New York, or back home in Pittsburgh and until I find a job I won’t know and won’t be able to commit to a house” Friedberg said.

Friedberg is one of the many seniors at American who have not yet secured a job after graduation, and it is this insecurity that is preventing her from living in her dream home with her five best friends next year.

On the bright side, the market for local apartments is looking better than the housing market.

According to a spokesperson from the Avalon Apartment Complex, which is located just feet from American University, prices on the spaces have gone down since January in an attempt to attract more students. Sophomore Ryan Kasman is one AU student who is moving into the Avalon in the fall, and said that the lower prices helped make her decision final.

“[The Avalon] has a gym, a pool, full-time security, and is very spacious with two-bedrooms. It’s still more expensive than the others but it’s worth it to be so close to campus and not have to spend the time searching for a house” Kasman said.

One-third of American University students live off-campus, according to Housing and Dining records, and starting the search to get there can be very difficult. A good way start is with a simple internet search of the real estate surrounding the University. Craigslist and AU Park rentals are two of the most popular web resources available to students, said American University’s Housing and Dining Program. These sites deliver pictures, lease dates, and rent prices right to your computer screen. Housing and Dining employee Adam Tager said that AU does its part in aiding the search for off-campus houses by offering a website where students can register and post listings of local houses and apartments. The site can be accessed through the my.american portal.

Dias recommends a few tips to students who are looking to rent a house with a large group. First, it is important to start your search early and be flexible, Dias said. Second, Dias said to show a strong interest in the house by asking questions and being active when viewing the house. Third, do everything in a timely manner. Be on-time for viewings and hand in the application as soon as possible.

Adam Gevarter, a real estate asset manager for a private investment company, also adds that using a real estate agent is better than dealing with a property manager. This is because you often don’t have to pay commission and they can help you find houses that are not even placed on the web yet. Gevarter also recommends that you should have your deposit money of one month’s rent ready before you even view the house.

“You want to look like you have everything together,” Gevarter said, “and having the deposit money ready to go will speed up the process and boost your chances of getting the house.”

Those are just a few things that students can do to get the off- campus residence they want but there are also the things, like the economy, that are not under their control.

“Finding a place to live with all of your friends is a great experience” a discouraged Friedberg said, “and it’s too bad that students are facing difficulties because of the bad economy.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DC United: In Search of a New Stadium

The Stadium Armory Metro Station is packed with black and white jerseys getting off the orange line train to New Carrollton.  The mass moves out of the station and past the shouts of ticket scalpers “Who has tickets, you selling tickets?”  The crowds turn the corner and move past the Armory to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.

Fans linger outside the stadium, buying cheap shirts from venders and scoffing down a hotdog and soda before entering the stadium.  Police are scattered across the street, letting the free flow of people move onto the grounds of the stadium.

As fans enter the stadium it begins.  The distance drum beat and the faint chant DCCCC UNNNited. As you emerge from the tunnel to see the field, RFK explodes into a mixture of yelling, music and drums.

RFK stadium is currently the home of DC United, but the team is hoping not for long.  The four-time MLS Cup Champions are proposing to build a new stadium – in Maryland.  D.C. United is hoping to build this new stadium in Prince Georges County. 

D.C. United said that RFK cannot fit its needs and requires basic repairs that are too costly. “It’s old and dilapidated but I think that gives it more character,” said DC United fan Joe Cannon.  He said that the stadium’s character is one of its best features.  “In a new stadium the seats won’t shake the same way that they do at RFK, and that’s one of the best parts of the game,” said Cannon.  DC United has played at RFK since it became a Major League Soccer team in 1996. 

DC United is not the first team to leave RFK for a new tailored-fit stadium.  The exodus from RFK began over 10 years ago.  The Washington Redskins, the Washington Nationals, and the Washington Senators have all played at RFK.  Prince George’s County is now the home to the Redskins at Fed Ex Field and the Nationals play at Nationals Park in Southeast DC, just beyond the Capitol. The Redskins played at RFK for over 30 years before moving to their new stadium in Maryland in 1997.

However, D.C. United’s proposed stadium hit a roadblock last week when the Prince George’s County Council voted to not allow a stadium study to be conducted. Prince George’s Council Chairwoman Marilynn Bland, who supports the stadium, said there is still hope that the stadium will be built, according to The Washington Post.  Council member Eric Olson, who does not support the stadium, said that DC United is now looking for locations outside of Prince George’s County.

“I think it pretty much ends the possibility unless they come back with a new financial model in which they pay all or the great majority of the costs of construction,” said Olson.  He said that the financial risks associated with building a stadium were too great and the public did not support the proposed stadium.

As DC United takes the field against the Houston Dynamo on a cool April night, the lower half of the stadium erupts in cheers and the infamous “DC-United” chant, while the upper half remains silent. Silence is something that has plagued RFK because DC United has been unable to attract a bigger fan base and sell seats in the upper half of the stadium.

DC United is not leaving RFK for a massive stadium like the Redskins and the Nationals. At 45,000 people, RFK can hold over 20,000 more people then its proposed new stadium.  In addition to holding fewer people, the new stadium will also have less parking.  The new stadium will have about 6,500 fewer parking spaces, which depending on public transportation could limit the number of fans that able to go to the games.

DC United fans are divided on how the move would affect their fan base. Washington DC native and DC United fan Elliott Calchell, 31, expressed concern that a new stadium outside of DC would cause DC United to lose some of its identity.  “I feel like if they moved outside of the city, and were so far outside that I couldn’t get into the game, I feel like I would lose a bit of my community and my identity,” said Calchell. He said that he rides his bike to games, so a stadium outside of DC would have to be Metro accessible.

Cannon, a Silver Spring native, said that the move would not affect his decision to attend games, but said he does not think the move would be beneficial.  “I think this is the perfect place for DC United because they are DC United and they should be in DC,” said Cannon.  Calchell agrees and says that switching cities will affect how fans connect with the team.   “I actually feel like DC United kind of represents where I come from, and my city, and my community,” said Calchell.  Both Calchell and Cannon said they would continue to support the team if it does move.

DC United and the New England Revolution are two of a handful of MLS teams that play in a stadium designed for another sports.  However, DC United wants to move out of the city while the New England Revolution wants to move in.  The Revolution, which play at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough MA, proposed in 2006 to build a new stadium and move into Boston.   The DC Fiscal Policy Institute cited in a 2008 article that using DC tax payer funds to build a new stadium “will not generate notable economic or fiscal benefits for the city.”  Another article by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute said that a soccer stadium alone could not revitalize the neighborhood it is built in.  DC United is moving in the same direction as some MLS teams like the Columbus Crew by proposing a new stadium that holds fewer people.

Although United’s stadium will be smaller, the move will not come cheap.  The new stadium cost between $180 million to $195 million.  D.C. United will not own the stadium, but will instead pay rent to the Maryland Stadium Authority.  DC United has never owned its own stadium.  The team currently rents the stadium from the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.

United does not want the emptiness that plagues RFK between United soccer games to move with them to their new stadium.  The proposed stadium will house games, concerts and local events.  In addition to DC United games, other teams will be able to utilize the new stadium.  The Washington Freedom, DC’s women’s professional soccer team will play its games at the new stadium.  Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams at the University of Maryland will play some of their games at the new stadium.

DC United declined to directly comment on the proposed stadium.

By: Lindsey Reese

Kennedy Political Union: a force on campus for 40 years and counting

When Bill DeBaun lacks inspiration, it’s nothing that a quick glance at the ornamented walls of his Mary Graydon office can’t solve. The American University senior and 2008-2009 Kennedy Political Union or KPU director swivels from one autographed poster to the next, rattling off an impressive list of speakers the bureau has brought to AU in its 40 years on campus.

“Desmond Tutu, Colin Powell, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, Benazir Bhutto,” DeBaun said as he pointed to the corresponding KPU event posters in his office. “These are people who have changed world history.” Although short, that list is but a sample of the hundreds of speakers that have taken the podium under KPU’s banner in the past four decades.

The 2008-2009 school year marks the 40th anniversary of KPU, American’s most prestigious student organization. AU students, the most politically active in the country according to Princeton Review, engage in conversation with a wide range of speakers about an even wider range of topics on anything from presidential elections to GLBTA rights.

KPU is “one of the premier student-run lecture series in the United States,” according to the organization’s Web site. This year’s staff includes DeBaun and six officers. DeBaun joined KPU last year as the logistics coordinator. He was appointed director by the Student Government Executive Board.

“The KPU is a really great part of the [Student Government],” said Kristen Pionati, KPU’s outreach coordinator. “It is non partisan, student run, and provides amazing opportunities for everyone to see impressive and entertaining speakers that are only possible because we’re in Washington, D.C.”

Frances Townsend, an AU alumna and former Homeland Security adviser to President Bush, held a KPU lecture on Wednesday, April 15. “My memory of KPU was larger than life.” Townsend said. “You’re in the center of a city where people love to talk,” she added in a post-lecture interview.

AU’s unique setting happens to be the main catalyst for the creation of KPU. In 1968, the students thought AU was not taking advantage of all Washington had to offer. “Too often our location in Washington is played up to prospective students, and then when they arrive, they get the same lecture they could pay half as much for…at any other university,” Student Activities President Luiz Simmons said in a September 1968 issue of the Eagle.

On Sept. 16, 1968, former Kennedy presidential aide Ted Sorenson delivered the first address of the series, then simply called the “Political Union.” The “Kennedy” would be added later to honor the Kennedy family’s contribution to politics, DeBaun said. In the beginning, he added, KPU mostly hosted Capitol Hill staffers. “We moved away from that because quite frankly, it’s not that interesting.”

Fast forward 40 years Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Mass, AU alumnus and one-time director of KPU would honor his former organization’s anniversary on the floor of the House of Representatives.

“That was very special for our organization,” said DeBaun, who was specifically recognized in McGovern’s speech to Congress.

The Massachusetts congressman said that meeting speakers was a highlight of his time at AU. During his term almost 30 years ago, McGovern was responsible for bringing former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., and former Israeli diplomat Abba Eban to AU’s campus.

Since its inception, KPU has built a reputation that is celebrated across Washington D.C., the nation and oftentimes, the world. The organization has attracted media personalities, politicians, activists and foreign leaders to speak in front of a generally enthusiastic audience.

“I love KPU. It’s one of my favorite things on campus,” College of Arts and Sciences freshman Scott Berman said at a recent KPU event. “This totally beats homework.”

DeBaun said he tries to bring “the finest speakers available” to AU’s campus but noted that each director brings a different flavor to the program. Some directors are more internationally based, he added, while others are more issue based. This year, DeBaun managed to bring Newt Gingrich, Norah O’Donnell and Sen. Chuck Hagel as well as Judy Shepard, gay rights activist and mother of Matthew Shepard.

“Sen. Hagel’s speech…was the most memorable KPU event because he was a great bipartisan leader in the Senate and has brought the nation together on many crucial issues,” said Aaron Goldstein, a freshman in the School of Public Affairs and KPU volunteer. Goldstein added that “KPU has fortified my views on many issues.”

DeBaun’s KPU legacy may be remembered by the end-of-the-year event on Sunday, April 26. He organized a five-person panel to discuss this year’s hot-button issue, the Obama administration. The panel, Views on the Obama Administration’s First 100 Days, included MSNBC News’s Mika Brzezinski, Tucker Carlson and Michelle Bernard as well as Obama for America campaign manager, David Plouffe. Luke Russert of NBC News moderated the event.
“The end-of-the-year event has posed some challenges for us,” DeBaun said. He also added that it was most difficult to schedule panel events because multiple busy schedules had to be satisfied.

Will Hubbard, a sophomore in the School of International Service, called the event and the 2008-2009 anniversary year a success. “By the end of the year, the whole staff was operating really effectively,” he said. “It went pretty flawlessly.” Hubbard was this year’s logistics coordinator. He recently found out that he will be taking over the directorship for DeBaun.

At the end-of-the-year panel, DeBaun thanked his staff, the students and the university for another successful year of the KPU series. DeBaun had some advice for Hubbard in his final address to Sunday night’s audience. “Take the helm and chart a course for a fantastic 41st lecture series as director next year.” Hubbard hopes to do just that to ensure KPU runs for another successful 40 years.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Holi!  Coming to a University Near You

Hannah Ford

24 April 2009

For the second year in a row, American University is joining in with thousands of people around the world in celebrating the Hindu Festival of Colors, Holi, with Holi on the Quad. 

With the help of Student Activities, the South Asian Student Association is sponsoring AU’s own Holi, as a way to bring more South Asian culture to the campus.  “Holi on the Quad is a way for South Asians and non-South Asians to celebrate Holi together,” said the Publicist for S.A.S.A., Ishani Desai.  “It’s a way for us [S.A.S.A.] to spread our culture to this school.”

“I hadn’t heard of Holi until this year.  I’m still not sure what it’s about, but I’m excited to see it first hand,” said Graduate student A.J. Berna.  

Another student, Zach Drescher, understood that Holi was related to the springtime, but other than that, he wasn’t really informed on the holiday.  “I once saw a Bollywood movie where there was a Holi scene,” he said.  “I thought it was awesome in the movie, so when I heard about it happening at AU, I had to go.”

Holi is a day of Hindu celebrations where people gather [in the U.S.] to throw colored powder and water at one another to welcome Spring.  Bonfires are lit in as a tradition to show commemoration of the “escape that young Prahlad had when Demoness Holika, sister of Hiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a resilient devotee of Lord Vishnu, escaped without any injuries due to his unshakable devotion.”

Holi also celebrates the legend of Radha and Krishna which describes the extreme delight Krishna took in applying color on Radha and other gopis (cow-herd girl). This prank of Krishna later becomes a trend and a part of the Holi festivities. 

“Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant, Krishna by feeding poisonous milk to it. (Holi Festival)”

Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. According to the legend, people in south celebrate the sacrifice of Lord of Passion Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.

But, to many, Holi means much more than that.  It’s also a method of community bonding, something Desai hopes to bring to AU again.  She isn’t the only person hoping to use Holi as a way to unite people. 

Indian Catholic Bishop Victor Thakur is leading an interreligious program to help unify Christians, Hindus, and Muslims claimed that Holi “has nothing to do with any religion,” but is a “human festival,” reported U.C.A. News.   He believes Holi creates a spirit of “rainbow-like solidarity” between people.  Celebrating other’s faiths help “strengthen one’s own faith,” he said, so everyone is welcome.  Even though Holi is a Hindu religious holiday, Bishop Thakur blurs the lines between culture and religion in order to make it more accepting of everyone.

Typically, Holi is celebrated half way through the month of March, when the last full moon day of the lunar month occurs.  However, due to the cooler climate of Washington, D.C., S.A.S.A. decided to have it a month later, when there will hopefully be better weather.

“It is often celebrated in North India, and usually features people dressed up in clothes they don’t mind ruining,” explained Professor Shubha Pathak, Assistant Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Religion at AU.  She went on to describe how people will buy a set of cheap white cotton clothes just for Holi so they can essentially go wild throwing the color powder on everyone (which stains horribly).  “After one day of this, everyone is drenched in color and there’s a sort of satirical feeling in the atmosphere,” she said.

In India, people are not required to go to work or school because everybody is running around the streets throwing colored powder at each other.  But, at AU, things are different since there isn’t that large group celebrating Holi.  Instead, AU uses a policy where if the student will be excused from classes depending on the religion they practice.   Class and work are given off for Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Hindu/Vedic, Islamic, Buddhist, Baha’i, and Protestant holy days.  

When the Kay Spiritual Life Center was called for more information on why certain holidays are automatic excused absences and some have different policies, the only response was, “What we have online are our policies.”  However, their website does not explain why certain holidays were counted here; it just lists when they occur and if they are celebrated at AU.

But, there still is a large amount of religious tolerance at AU which isn’t a surprise due to the way the university prides itself on the diverse campus it manages. 

There are many other universities around the United States who take the same stance as AU.  This year there were Holi celebrations at an array of campuses.  Fliers and event websites were available for schools like Cornell University in New York to Arkansas State University.  Texas Tech University was on that list as well, in addition to George Washington University of D.C.  They have been celebrating since at least 2000.  None of the schools mention the whole campus being relieved from scholarly responsibilities, but many are open to the public and one, Standford University in California, turned it into a fundraiser for literacy projects in India.  That one is said to turn out college students and families by the hundreds. 

AU loses no money through Holi festivals because the whole thing is sponsored by Student Activities.  All of their money comes from the fundraising they do for their group.  It was a very simple process the second year, Desai said.  However, the year before S.A.S.A.’s E-board was said to have difficulties pitching the idea to Student Activities.  However, “this is a religious event so they couldn’t turn us down,” Desai explained.

Holi on the Quad at AU

            It was ten minutes before Holi was scheduled to begin, on April 11th, and there were exactly zero students standing ready to engage in Holi.  The event had been advertised and organized through facebook, and there it was written that everyone needed to meet in front the Kay Spiritual Center.  It took a few minutes before the S.A.S.A. members called attention to themselves; hidden inside a nearby building.  It had been raining fairly steadily, but S.A.S.A. had the special colored powder specifically for Holi flown in from Atlanta, and they were going to use it.

            About 1:10 people finally started trickling in.  Everyone waited in anticipation in the Ward Lobby for the go-ahead from anyone who would offer one.

            “A word to the wise, last year it took three showers to wash all the dye off,” cautioned Divya Narayanan, treasurer on the S.A.S.A.’s E-board.  She also explained some new “rules” that had to be considered because of the stain that’s left over from the colored powder and the strict rules of the Student Association.  Apparently, staining any section of the sidewalk would result in imminent doom.  Once you had engaged in Holi

activities, you were no longer permitted anywhere near any buildings.  That was really the biggest rule.

            Soon after, AU’s finest were running amuck in Kay Spiritual Center’s yard, throwing handfuls of purple and green at one another, using water balloons as weapons.  People who had been previously complaining about the cold were now more concerned with getting more red on each other.

After the festivities had ceased, and people began to clean up, Desai commented about how it was another successful Holi, but the turn out was definitely affected by the weather.  “I could just kick myself!” Narayanan responded.  “It was originally planned to have Holi this past weekend when the weather was perfect, but for some reason I thought it would be better to change it!” 

            A student, Beth Allard, confirmed what Desai had just said.  She was watching from a nearby building, “My friend and I were going to go because it sounded really fun, but it’s been raining all morning…” 

            Regardless of the weather, many can agree that Holi provided a stress reliever and helped unite another group of AU students.

New RA Policy Raises Questions of Privacy in On-Campus Housing

Over the past year, AU Housing and Dining Programs has, with difficulty, sought to implement a program that would encourage more interaction between resident assistants and their residents while not invading students' privacy.

In January, Intentional Interactions became the reincarnation of EagleEye, an unpopular program that was shut down after much student outcry. The EagleEye 2.0, so to speak, aims to increase contact between the two groups.

When information about the Housing and Dining's EagleEye program leaked last September, some students said they were alarmed by the seeming lack of privacy it generated, especially if RAs were able to talk to resident directors about certain individuals they were worried about.

Documents previously obtained by The Eagle showed that the program aimed to collect data about resident students’ experience at AU. In the opt-in program, RAs would conduct one-on-one meetings with residents and then log and track information about the students in an online database, the Eagle previously reported. The program focused on the aggregate, not individuals, Treter said.

"Resident Assistants will submit online EagleEye Reports to the Director of Residence Life on a rolling basis for students they observe to be at risk, based on a series of criteria established by the Residential Education Team,” EagleEye’s original definition read, The Eagle previously reported. “The Residential Education Team, in coordination with the appropriate university office, will then determine the appropriate follow-up to increase student retention and success."

After numerous student complaints, Housing and Dining Executive Director Chris Moody decided to not approve the program, and Director of Residence Life Rick Treter went back to the drawing board.

The new program, which Housing and Dining internally refers to as Intentional Interactions, is "the best part of EagleEye," according to Treter.

"A version of [EagleEye] has been redrafted to remove any types of concern about invasion of privacy [or] storage of student information, to be a guide for RAs in helping to have conversations with their students," Moody said.

Intentional Interactions is a tool for RAs to have increased relations and conversations with the residents living on their floor, according to Treter. RAs are given lists and contact information for places to point their residents to if they have any questions or problems with any facet of student life. All on-campus residents, especially freshmen, are encouraged to schedule, but can opt-out of, one-on-one conversations with their RA.

Freshman Louise Brask participated in EagleEye last fall.

"Last semester, when I was first interviewed by my RA, I was a little taken aback that they had been writing everything down," she said. "It seemed very forced and very unnatural."

Suggested questions for Intentional Interactions are the same as they were for EagleEye, Treter said. The main difference is that there will not be any information tracking.

"The focus of EagleEye became learning about students," Moody said. "But that wasn't what it was designed to do. It was designed to give the RA resources to give back to the student, and so I think all the conversations that happened in the fall about EagleEye were really productive because it helped to re-focus the goal on giving RAs resources to help residents."

EagleEye was not meant to be an invasion of privacy, Treter said.

"It was not my intention from the beginning for it to be anything that was intrusive into somebody's private area," he said. "That's not my goal and that's not something that I want."

The problem with EagleEye was the mandatory reporting of all residents, according to an RA in a North side residence hall who asked not to be identified.

"RAs are already encouraged to bring any problems they see on their floor to the RDs," the RA said. "But making a mandatory reporting database of all residents and their reactions to our questions was not a good idea."

The RA said he or she partially follows Intentional Interactions. The RA does not use the questions provided by Housing and Dining, but instead said he or she tries to have meaningful conversations with his or her residents.

"I consider what I do to be the intent of Intentional Interactions," the RA said. "I do not press my residents for more information; I let them talk to me about how they are doing, and I try to assist them with any issues or problems they are having."

The role of the RA in student life comes at the heels of the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting – where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members before taking his own life. At the time of the shooting, Cho was living in on-campus housing; several of his roommates and neighbors previously mentioned him exhibiting rogue behavior, yet his RA knew nothing about the issue. As reports after the shooting later uncovered, Cho had been diagnosed with severe anxiety conditions since middle school, which sparked a national discussion as to how much information the school and his RA should have been informed about him and his condition.

The goal of Intentional Interactions is for students to get to know their RAs better and for the RAs to give more comprehensive guidance - not to screen for at-risk students, Treter said.

"We already have a mechanism in place for students at-risk to be identified," he said.

In the system, RAs talk to RDs about certain students they see as at-risk.

"In no way, shape or form was that program meant to ascertain those individuals," he said.

Housing and Dining wants RAs to be there for their residents if they need advice or simply want to talk, Moody said.

"I want students to understand that their RA is not just an enforcer of community standards, that they are not just there to police the floor," Treter said. "That their role is much larger than that, and what they are charged with is really making sure that students are getting connected to resources and that they are having a good residential experience at AU from the time that they're here."

RAs at Georgetown University are required to serve as a “resource and referral person” to residents, and refer students to the RD when necessary, similar to the expectations of AU’s RAs. George Mason University also has a comparable policy. RAs at Catholic University are required to act as “role models” for their residents personally, socially and academically.

Freshman Chris Dychala said he did not think Intentional Interactions was an invasion of privacy, but he would not utilize the one-on-ones with his RA.

"It feels like we're being babysat by the RAs and having this intentional mentor just to make sure students are OK, I don't really think it's something that's necessary," Dychala said.

The Summer Sun Under an Economic Cloud: AU Students Plan Summer During Financial Crisis

Comm 320 Contributing Writer
Washington-12 days remain in the spring semester of 2009 for American University students, eager to begin the long summer even as many scramble to adjust to financial hurdles caused by the economic downturn.

While the economy is certainly affecting all aspects of life, most students “don’t list it as a primary reason,” in planning their summers, AU School of International Service Academic Adviser Meagan McKee said. While students may be at least slightly insulated from the economy, “there’s obviously people in distress.”

McKee identified three basic summer options most AU students take. Generally speaking, students go abroad to study and intern, stay in D.C. to take classes at AU and intern in the city or go home to try their luck at local jobs and internships.
While initial patterns are emerging, a complete picture of what AU students are doing during this summer is yet to be formed. “We’re still in the summer hiring season,” the AU Career Center’s Director of Career Development, Susan Gordon said. With summer two weeks away, according to Gordon there are still students who have yet to begin looking for work.

What Gordon has seen in trends among summer prospects is not encouraging. “A student who wants to stay here this summer…probably shouldn’t be too fussy,” in finding jobs to financially support him or herself, Gordon said. According to Gordon, many employers of both paid jobs and unpaid internships are taking longer to get back to interested students. Part of the delay and difficulty in finding internships, even unpaid ones, is a lack of available supervision, as firms cut back on their labor force and reduce the number of supervisors available.

While the number of students interested in staying in D.C has not changed, Gordon has seen an increase in the number of students looking for paid positions to supplement unpaid internships. Part of that trend owes to a declining number of paid internships, with many prospective employers confident in the competitive nature of the positions changing internships from paid to unpaid.

Students are learning to adapt to the changing nature and availability of work. AU junior Von Gerik Allena decided to become an orientation leader, planning new student orientation for incoming freshman in order to earn the spending money he’d normally get from his parents. “I really need money this summer,” he said. “It’s so much harder now, I need money… My parents tend to just give me the money, but they just can’t afford to give me any spare cash right now.”

Before and after his duties as orientation leader, Allena will still have the dream summer experience. In May he’ll be touring Eastern Europe with the Chamber Choir, a trip mostly paid for by AU’s Department of Performing Arts with the rest coming out of pocket. While the choir will be performing a concert almost everyday, according to Allena some twenty-five percent of the trip will be free time.

It is for his plans after his duties as an orientation leader that Allena really needs the approximately $1,300 to $1,500 he hopes to make. Hoping to solidify the plans by the end of May, Allena and a friend intend to take a one week vacation of either Hawaii or a Caribbean island.

“It’s gonna be a very, very good summer,” Allena said. Despite the plans of beaches and adventure, Allena acknowledges that without the need for spending money he probably would have gone to the Philippines this summer, where his family is originally from, for a much longer time than his one week post-orientation vacation.

The economy has affected sophomore Colin White’s plans “a bit,” he said. Planning on going home to San Antonio, Texas and working at a local restaurant where he has worked before, White had hoped to stay in D.C this summer. White had looked for employment in the D.C. area to sustain him while he took summer classes and saved up for study abroad in the fall, but the jobs weren’t to be had. According to White, his parents would probably have paid for his stay in D.C. were it not for the current economic situation. At the very least, White believes he would have been able to find work in the area to pay for his stay himself.

Courtney Klamar, a junior, counts herself lucky, going home to Ohio where she will spend a big part of her summer working at a The Beaver Camp, a church summer program for third, fourth and fifth graders. The rest of her summer will be consumed by vacationing in Michigan as well as two conferences she will be attending, one for the AU Residence Hall Association on campus at the end of May and the other at a conference of the United Church of Christ for which she is a senate delegate.

“I’m lucky…I’m not needing to find a new job,” Klamar said. Even so, Klamar has seen the effects of the economy, going to the Beaver Camp and the conferences without several friends who needed to commit to their jobs full time. Luckily for Klamar, she has money saved up and lives with her parents, the conferences are paid for.

If he wants to stay in D.C., junior Jonathan Hultine will need a paid job to supplement any internship he might get. Were it not for the state of the economy, there would be “certainly a lot less pressure to do so,” he said. If he can’t find such work, Hultine regrets that he’ll be forced to return home to Miami, Florida to find a paid position.

Of course, not everyone has had to adapt. “My plans have not been affected by the economy,” sophomore Jon Darosa said.

Darosa is considering an unpaid internship with the New York City office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

With disposable income as a dependent to his parents, Darosa considers himself fortunate. Most of his college tuition is paid by scholarship and the rest by his parents. If he takes a paying job to supplement the internship, that income will be entirely spending money.

“Most students our age just kind of you know, go home to work anyway,” he said. According to Darosa, the economy has little impact on most college students until it’s time to get “real jobs.”

Real jobs or only fake internships, there is little denying the trend at hand. With unemployment at 8.1 percent, a survey by found that 73 percent of employers anticipate more summer applicants this year than last and 23 percent will not be able to hire as many as they have in the past. The summertime blues indeed.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

AU Basketball Could Affect Admissions


            American University has gained extra attention the last two years because its men’s basketball team has made the NCAA Tournament.  American is hoping that it can lead to more applicants.

            American is hoping to capitalize on one of the biggest events on college campuses, even a small one like AU: sports.  Whether it is basketball, football, baseball or hockey, athletics are one of the main sources of pride on college campuses.  Looking around at the banners put up all across the American University campus, excitement was in the air prior to the Eagles’ first round departure from the NCAA Tournament.  The buzz felt in the D.C. area would intrigue any potential future student at American. 

            “I was excited to come to a school that had just played in the NCAA Tournament.  It was really unexpected too, which made it even nicer,” said Graham Brookie, 19, a freshman at AU.  “I think more people will apply after back to back Tourney Appearances.  Sports are a huge deal in college.”

            How should American use the NCAA Tournament to the benefit?  In 2006, another local school, George Mason, made a trip to the NCAA Tournament.  According to the Pittsburgh Gazette, when George Mason made an astonishing run to the “Final Four”, the school sent emails to admitted students informing them of the team’s success and where they could watch games with other George Mason fans.  The school also sent alumni to meet with applicants about the team.

            There is just one problem.  The students you want may not be the ones applying.  According to the article, the number of applicants increases shortly after sporting events that get a lot of national attention, but the quality of students does not necessarily change.  Still, according to an article from the La Crosse Tribune in Wisconsin, the number of applicants at George Mason increased by 22 percent the year after their “Final Four” run.

            Now, AU will obviously not see a spike like that next year because unlike George Mason, the Eagles lost early on in the tournament and did not get the media that “Final Four” teams do. But even the littlest national exposure should help.  In a study done by the Southern Economic Journal, every team that makes the NCAA Tournament should expect at least a one percent increase in applications for the following year.

            “When I started here, we weren’t really known much for our basketball team,” said Frane Markusovic, 23, a senior and backup center for the Eagles.  “Now leaving, I feel like people are a lot more excited about the basketball program.”  Maybe this excitement can turn a campus that once put little thought into athletics into a rowdy, in your face sports program that instills fear into opponents.

            If the Eagles were to ever win a men’s basketball national championship, it would be a big deal for the people in the admissions office.  According to a report done by Research in Higher Education, increase in applications in schools that win national championships is more than a one year occurrence.  In other words, students will still apply a few years after winning the national championship.  However, the study also found that there is an even bigger boost in applications after winning the football national championship.  Maybe AU should get that team started again.  The school used to have a football team, but decided to get rid of it.  American University students can now be seen with tee shirts that say “American University Football” on the front and “Still Undefeated” on the back.

            The study also shows that successful sports programs make younger people pay attention to higher education at an earlier age.  If AU could become a powerhouse in college basketball, it would give them notoriety with kids years away from applying to colleges.

            “It was exciting to see a school that I was applying to on national television.  I didn’t expect them to make a big run in the tournament, but they came close against a school that was supposed to embarrass them,” said Ashley Bollech, 18, an applicant to AU for the fall 2009 school year.  “It gave me something to look forward to…should I get in.” 

            The Eagles were expected by many to be run out of the gym when they played Villanova against a basically home crowd in Philadelphia.  The AU team was up by 10 at halftime of the first round matchup.  However, the team could not hold the lead an ended up losing the game 80-67.  But even coming close to beating a high seeded team in the big dance gains the school national exposure.

            Nonetheless, the admissions department at AU has not used the basketball team to sell the school to future students.  “We have not really used the basketball team’s success in terms of recruiting new students,” said Greg Grauman, American’s director of admissions.  According to Grauman, the team has not had enough national success to have the NCAA Tournament used as a big lure for high school students applying to the university.

            Garrison Carr, 23, the teams’ star shooting guard, hopes he can leave his mark on the university.  He leaves as a top-five scorer all-time at American University.  However, Carr wants to be known for more than just a few flashy statistics.  “I hope I’ve made future students want to come to AU,” said Carr

Basketball Team Video:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Former Manasquan borough attorney honored for decades of service

At Monday evening’s borough council meeting, Mayor George Dempsey named former Manasquan borough attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons as an honorary citizen of the town he served for 32 years.

Fitzsimmons retired as Manasquan’s borough attorney in 2008 to accept a full-time position in Toms River, N.J. During his tenure, Fitzsimmons negotiated public contracts and fought for the preservation of countless local landmarks, Dempsey said. He is credited with conserving Fisherman’s Cove and restoring the Algonquin Arts Theatre when the Main Street landmark was in disrepair. Fitzsimmons was also instrumental in securing Manasquan beach’s “historic” Coast Guard station and in organizing the town’s 1987 centennial program, according to the proclamation.

The public meeting began at 8 p.m. in the Borough Hall Council Chambers immediately following the council’s closed-door work session. In addition to honoring Fitzsimmons, the council appointed relief snow plow drivers, an appointment usually carried out in early January.

“It was just something that slid through the cracks,” Mayor Dempsey responded to a question of the two month delay. The appointment comes one week after a major storm dumped six to 12 inches of snow across the Garden State.

Although it was not on the agenda, local sports were a hot topic at Monday’s meeting. The mayor, in particular, was caught up with the real time scores of the boy’s high school basketball game then in progress. At one point, Dempsey informed the council of the blue and grey’s victory over Middlesex, making them Central Jersey II State Champions. He detailed the 59-36 win, claiming it was “mental telepathy.”

After public orders were dealt with, Fitzsimmons entered the chamber and Squan’s mayor and council praised their long-time colleague for his “expert negotiating skills” and “exemplary legal service.” The mayor went on to bestow the title of borough attorney emeritus upon Fitzsimmons, a resident of neighboring Point Pleasant. Dempsey’s proclamation declared March 9, 2009 Kenneth B. Fitzsimmons Recognition Day.

“You’ve only got a couple hours so live it up,” Dempsey said as he glanced at the clock. The proclamation’s reading contained no shortage of clever side remarks by a mayor known for his quick, impromptu quips. The council repeatedly erupted in laughter as the mayor and former borough attorney continued to take one friendly jab after another.

Before presenting Fitzsimmons with a plaque, Dempsey said the attorney was “a tremendous asset who served the borough with devotion, honor and dedication.” The entire council then gave their former colleague a standing ovation.

“Ken, you’ve been awesome,” Councilman Jeff Lee said.

Fitzsimmons accepted the plaque with a gracious smile and his wife, Judy, by his side. “You can hang [the plaque] in your office in Toms River and tell little stories about everybody here,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey and Fitzsimmons hugged as tears began to roll down Fitzsimmons’ face. “It’s been a real pleasure,” he said. “I don’t know whether to regard you as friends or colleagues.”
Mayor Dempsey and the council agreed that the honor was well deserved.

Fitzsimmons noted some of the parallels between Manasquan and his new employer, Toms River. The attorney said it was a “big little town” that was just as passionate about football and athletics. He also noted the towns have the same warrior Indian mascot. “I think that Indian has rights or something,” Fitzsimmons said with a chuckle. “He’s collecting from a lot of towns.” The mayor and council smiled and laughed with Fitzsimmons who wiped a tear from his cheek. He became emotional while thanking his friends, colleagues and wife.

“When you’re around this town for 32 years,” said Fitzsimmons, “you can’t help but bleed blue.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chevy Chase ANC Votes to Support D.C. Voting Rights

The Chevy Chase Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting D.C. voting rights at their bimonthly meeting Monday night.

Chair Gary Thompson proposed resubmitting the resolution from 2007 to Congress that asked for full representation in Congress. “Nothing is more important than the right to vote,” said Thompson.

Thompson said that ANCs are allowed to present any view to any government agency they wish to. He said that he did not see a reason why the Chevy Chase ANC, which represents Ward 3 and part of Ward 4, should not take a stance on D.C. receiving voting rights in Congress. Commissioners Henry Griffin, Jim McCarthy, Carolyn Cook and Allen Beach all agreed that the commission should make their voices heard in Congress.

Individuals attending the meeting questioned the wording of the proposal and thought that it should be border and be closer to the proposed bill in Congress. The original wording of the resolution indicated that the ANC supported having full representation, meaning two senators. Individuals at the meeting thought that the ANC should take a stance that only demanded partial rights because they said that full rights are out of the picture.

“Do we take it a little bit at a time or demand justice?” said Thompson. The ANC compromised and decided to send the resolution with the changed wording of “up to two senators,” instead of “two senators.”

Former Chair Jerry Levine asked the commission to take a strong stance on a certain aspect of the voting rights bill to get Congress to take the ANC’s proposal seriously. He suggested that the commission look at the gun amendment to the bill that restores second amendment right to D.C. and abolishes all gun laws in the District. However, the commission decided not to take a strong position on the gun amendment because they did not want to be controversial and simply want Congress to know that they believe D.C. should have representation.

Before discussing the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, the commission announced that they are accepting applications for their Spring Grant Program and will review applications during their next meeting on April 13. The commission gives grants to individuals and community groups twice a year (fall and spring) for amounts up to $1,000. Individuals and groups that receive that grants must use the money on something that will benefit the Chevy Chase community or the children of Chevy Chase. Commissioner Beach said that this will be the first year the council requires grant receivers to submit a statement of purpose.

The ANC heard a presentation from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs concerning vacant properties and the importance in making sure they are registered with the D.C. government. The D.C. government believes that vacant properties not only affect the property values of neighborhood properties, but also the welfare of families that live near the vacant property.

At the beginning of the meeting, students from the Higher Achievement program, who were invited by the ANC, performed their poems. Higher Achievement is a program that targets children during their middle school years to direct their energy into positive activities. The program helps students after school with homework and also holds a poetry contest every year. The two students who performed their poems where finalists from their school and performed their poems about love. The Higher Achievement program asked the ANC if they would be willing to write and letter of recommendation and work with the program in the future. The ANC agreed to both requests and commended the students on their poems and calm presentation.

The commission voted 5-0 to sign a letter asking the D.C. government to pay for sign language interrupters, at the end of the meeting. ANCs are responsible for finding and paying for sign language interrupters who can translate their meetings for deaf community members. Thompson stressed that is it very important for individuals to have full and equal representation in ANC meetings. He said that without sign language interrupters this is not possible. The letter asked the D.C. government to either find and pay for interrupters or let ANC’s find and pay for interrupters and be reimbursed by the D.C. government.

Commissioner Beach reported on a meeting he had attended by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. “Alcohol is not a problem for the ANC, the problem is a behavior problem,” said Beach. He said that there is some concern over clubs that close late in other parts of D.C. that release rowdy patrons at early morning hours. Beach said that when restaurants with liquor licenses in the Chevy Chase Area come due, the ANC will definitely be active in how those licenses are renewed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chevy Chase Looking To Quell Water Drainage Problem

Chevy Chase’s residents are frustrated by the costs and annoyances created by the town’s water drainage ordinance.

In an effort to assist residents, the town’s environment committee met Thursday night to evaluate the ordinance and develop recommendations that will help clarify certain rules.

According to the committee, there are several issues surrounding the ordinance. Among these issues are applicability of county requirements, permeable surfaces as infiltration devices, coordination of Water Plan with Tree Protection Plan, and the Maintenance agreement property owners have had difficulty with.

In terms of Chevy Chase’s requirements, the town’s ordinance calls for water drainage plans to conform to specifications found in the design manual of the state’s Department of Environment.

This has caused some controversy in town about whether the State or County rules are appropriate for small residential lots. To the townspeople, the rules are often applied to commercial lots or large residential developments.

According to Rick Brush, Director of Montgomery County Permitting Services, the County specifications adhere closely to the State’s. Mr. Brush told the committee that state and county rules are applicable to small residential lots as well as larger lots.

He added that the State recently revised the manual and believes it contains additional provisions applicable to the small lots making it more relevant.

The environment committee is recommending the town to adhere to State specifications. If a property owner and/or the town engineer think the State requirement isn’t fitting for the property, the town engineer would be encouraged to discuss with the Maryland Department of Environment to come up with a better solution.

For instance, Chevy Chase is known to be hilly in some places and some of its soil doesn’t easily accept water. Maryland doesn’t allow water infiltration systems on slopes greater than 15% unless the system does not alter the slope in any way. To the committee, this state rule, if applied, would protect residents from being burdened by the lots of nearby neighbors.

One town resident the committee recently interviewed said it wasn’t fair when water from several developed lots drain into her backyard. It doesn’t make it easier when some residents have several lots. Her unfortunate experiences occurred before the ordinance became effective.

Developer Patrick Keating told the committee that when soil on a lot accepts water, water retention equipment and installation costs are very expensive, typically costing around $12,000 and $15,000. In an area as rocky as Chevy Chase, Mr. Keating indicated the cost possibly being significantly more. He told the Town Council to be aware that by adopting the ordinance, development projects could be very expensive or even impossible.

What about Permeable surfaces? Maybe they could reduce expenses by treating them as infiltration devices.

According to the environment committee, permeable surfaces frankly wouldn’t work. Permeable surfaces can only absorb a minimal amount of water runoff. Unless the permeable driveway or surface is repeatedly maintained properly, it could become impermeable due to objects like leaves.

“It would exacerbate flooding in the future,” said Joan Shorett, an environment committee member. “Also, our Town engineer said he doesn’t know any way he can test the permeability of a driveway.”

Thus, with the Town engineer unable to evaluate whether an owner properly maintains a surface and a general assumption that owners won’t maintain the surfaces, the committee decided to discourage the use of these surfaces.

Then arrived the issue of the coordination of two plans. The problem had to do with whether infiltration devices should be placed within the drip line of a canopy tree.
Don MacGlashan, longtime resident of Chevy Chase, noted that houses often are approved before either the water issue or tree issue is brought up. He added that the houses should all be conditioned.

The committee ended up stating that the issue could be addressed as part of a property owner’s tree protection plan related to any new development. The committee encourages residents to get the Town engineer and Town arborist together in these situations.

Lastly, some residents have had difficulty in getting mortgage lenders to sign the consent of Trustees/Lender included in the Water Drainage Plan Inspection and Maintenance Agreement. According to the agreement, a property owner must get a mortgage lender to sign consent to that the lender is responsible for maintaining the water retention system in case there is a foreclosure.

One property owner building a new house told the committee that he had to pay several thousand dollars in unnecessary closing costs because he couldn’t get a hold of his original lender. The money was for refinancing his existing mortgage with a different lender.

Town attorney David Podolsky suggested simply eliminating the consent of Trustees/Lender section from the Agreement. Lenders that foreclose wouldn’t need to maintain the retention system and new owners would be obligated to do so under the maintenance agreement.

The environment agreed with Podolsky stating that because most properties containing water retention systems would be highly valued, lenders would likely try to maintain the systems to make the homes attractive to potential buyers.
Furthermore, the risk of a lender not being able to sell in a reasonable time frame is outweighed by the difficulty Town residents have had in obtaining lenders’ consent.

The environment committee plans to continue reviewing the water ordinance and hold its next meeting on April 2nd.

In other action, the committee:

· Reminded members that the Town Council will hold a public hearing on the noise control initiative on March 11th. It has asked the Council to establish noise control as a priority and to work with residents and contractors to ensure that the County’s residential noise standards are the norm in the town.

· Gave informal approval to a proposal by Common Cents Solar to begin solar energy projects that can benefit the community. Common Cents Solar wants to minimize costs by providing wholesale purchasing and encouraging residents to invest in clean renewable energy production in tax-deductible ways.


Jean Shorett

Don MacGlashan

Vicky Taplan, Chair - 301-215-9406

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chevy Chase Town Meeting

Water and Noise problems become main environmental issues in Chevy Chase

The Chevy Chase Environmental Committee held its monthly meeting yesterday at Town Hall to discuss issues involving the newly implemented Water Drainage Ordinance as well as the proposal for a noise control policy that would affect local residents.
The 10 members of the Environmental Committee who were present cited four main problems that residents are having with the Water Drainage Ordinance, and proposed valid solutions to the local government policy.

The Water Drainage Ordinance was created in 2005 as a result of resident complaints about increasing storm water management problems throughout Chevy Chase. The ordinance currently states that if a homeowner expands a home or places an impermeable surface that is bigger than 700 feet over the soil, the owner must build a water retention system which has the ability to hold water on the property, preventing it from flowing onto neighboring properties.

Flaws in the ordinance included the applicability of county requirements, the use of permeable surfaces as infiltration devices, the coordination of the water plan with the tree protection plan, and the maintenance agreement of the water drainage ordinance, according to committee member Joan Rood, who headed the discussion on the topic.

“The pressure is all on the town, and its employed engineers to make sure the ordinance are being carried out,” said Environmental Committee member Sally Kelly.

Chevy Chase residents are concerned with the design of the drainage systems that are being used, according to Coralee Hoffman, who said that the standards set up by the ordinance are not being implemented, and the county codes, as well as the state codes are being ignored, as homes in clear violation of the Water Drainage Ordinance are being approved by the Water Board.

“It’s a broader policy issue,” said committee member Ruth Fort, “our county is using this new found legislation to do things below the level that the ordinance has established and only since the towns have gotten more authority have they gained more flexible instead of being stringent.”

Additionally, the question of who should be accountable for damage done to neighboring homes when a drainage system failure occurs was posed. One solution would be to make the maintenance of the water systems the responsibility of the home owners by having it be inspected by an engineer annually and filing the results with the county. This solution would save the town the cost of hiring more engineers to perform the inspections, but would place the cost and responsibility of filing on the residents.

Residents also encountered problems with the maintenance agreement clause of the Water Drainage Ordinance, which states that a financial lender needs to sign the agreement, making them responsible for drainage system maintenance in an instance of foreclosure. Multiple local residents have been denied financing or have had to refinance their mortgages in order to keep to the agreement. According to Council liaison Rob Enelow, there is a proposal going to the Town Council in April that would strike this agreement from the ordinance.

The Environmental Committee also addressed fundamental concerns with a proposed noise restriction policy. A proposal that would limit the amount of noise from commercial sources, such as construction sites and lawn services was brought to the people of Chevy Chase at an information session last month. There was a low attendance and few write-ins at the session, which can be interpreted as a lack of general interest on behalf of local residents to prohibit noise, according to Hoffman.

Some of the committee members, including Hoffman voiced concern over the strict proposed standard, of having to be fewer than 65 decibels, which translates to being able to carry on a conversation, without shouting, with the noise in the background.

“You couldn’t even run a leaf blower under the county standards,” Hoffman said jokingly.
It is important to remember that the purpose of the proposal is to prevent the intrusion of noise onto someone else’s property as the committee stressed the need for the people’s voices to be heard so the issue is not overlooked, according to Fort.

Technology is evolving even in the small residential area of Chevy Chase as concerned committee members were excited about the existence of newer, quieter leaf blowers, which would be preferred in the use of lawn services.

“I would gladly promote a [lawn service] company that used these quiet leaf blowers and tell everyone in the neighborhood to use them,” said Kelly, who believes that lawn services can gain an advantage by using the improved technology.

The Environment Committee’s mission statement is to help the town promote a healthier environment for all town residents and the group meets on the first Thursday of every month. The next scheduled meeting is April 2, 2009, where a presentation on solar panels and wind generators will be brought to the committee.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Community Lacks Info on Library Expansion

Comm 320 Contributing Writer

Washington-There is not enough information to decide the future of Ward 1’s Mount Pleasant Library, was the common consensus at the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Tuesday.

Facilitated by D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, (D-Ward 1) concerned Ward citizens and representatives of numerous local organizations attended the open to the public meeting at La Casa community center on Mount Pleasant Street to discuss the library’s future. Scheduled for expansion, Graham recently asked for a 30 day pause in the planning process after significant concern was raised among the community, Mount Pleasant Chief Librarian Jenny Cooper agreed. This was the first in what will likely be several meetings during what Graham described as ‘the pause.’ Ultimately, those in attendance were not the decision makers, Graham said.

“The Mount Pleasant community has come together in a fairly solidified way…to say we don’t want to rush forward with this (the expansion) right now,” Graham said.

The expansion plan dates back to 2000, said ANC Commissioner Gregg Edwards. With an $8.5 million total construction budget, current designs call for extending the library on both sides and enlarging the bathrooms to meet code requirements.

Graham outlined the issues earlier meetings had identified as central to concern over the library’s future. “Does this community embrace the expansion?” he said. If the answer to that question is yes, then in what ways do people want to see the library expand? If the answer is no, if people feel that the library’s current configuration is sufficient, then how much would it cost to rehabilitate the library’s current configuration so that it is up to modern code and is able to suit the community’s needs? Once those questions have been answered, Graham hoped the community would determine if it makes sense “to have library resources elsewhere in Ward One?”

Only about half the attendees raised their hands when Graham asked for a show of who had made their mind up on the issues concerning the library.

Graham hoped to use the meeting to raise “some very basic issues,” he said. He’d noticed in previous meetings that there was a need to cover the issues in order to make an informed decision.

The Mount Pleasant Library Planning commission has taken a “top down approach,” Edwards said, complaining that the community has been left out of the loop in planning the library’s future. Edwards argued that a survey used to ascertain public opinion had asked questions that made many assumptions contrary to common perceptions of libraries and that research conducted by the commission into the expansion was contrary to standard, smart procedure.

Graham said he was uncomfortable with the lack of analysis on what was actually needed in terms of library expansion and what services should be provided and what kind of facilities would be required to provide them where they were needed most. “We just don’t know enough about what future concerns are,” he said.

Edwards argued that an outside group needs to be found to perform a needs analysis on the library’s expansion and “get the facts for us,” he said. “We don’t have credible information about what our needs are.”

The ANC is opposed to expansion only “in this way,” Edwards said. Edwards argued that the construction budget could be better used in helping people throughout Ward One, that the necessary expansion could be accomplished with only part of the budget while the rest could be employed to expand library services throughout the ward.
Mount Pleasant ANC member Jack McKay saw the pause as a potential opportunity, one where the needs of Ward One residents might be better served. People in the Mount Pleasant area don’t need key library services as badly as in other areas of Ward One, particularly in the east, he said.

At this point, the public library is performing only 20 percent of services needed, Edwards said. He has heard from many who complain to the ANC that “they don’t see the programs that they need,” he said.

There was some speculation among those gathered that space the library currently has might be better used, limiting the need for expansion and new facilities. While there is unused space, a library representative in attendance explained that some 20,000 people use the library each month, numbers it is not equipped to handle. During peak hours, “we don’t have a space for everyone to sit in the library,” he said.

Amos Tevelow of the Mount Pleasant Condominium Association was among the meeting’s most vocal advocates against expansion as is. Mount Pleasant Condominiums is the library’s direct next door neighbor. According to Tevelow, the designs call for the library to almost completely breach the gap between the two buildings, eliminating a driveway that is currently there, potentially inhibiting fire egress. Tevelow also claimed that the library in its planned form would obstruct condominium windows, lowering the quality of life for residents and damaging property values. Not opposed to the idea of the expansion in general, just the current design, “we’re open to a lot of creative solutions,” Tevelow said.

Students not represented at local meetings

The Advisory Neighborhood Committee meeting for Ward 3D focused on neighborhood safety and community growth Wednesday night, but failed to involve American University students in the discussion.

The monthly meeting began with a police report, which mostly focused on the safety of valuables. However when it came time for public and committee questions, the tone of the briefing changed. Committee member Stuart Ross stated that he had complaints of students being drunk walking down the street on Friday nights.

“I have gotten a lot of calls the last couple of weeks that on Friday nights there have been a number of students, excuse me, younger people walking really drunk,” Ross stated. “It is an annoyance and there is also concern about the kids getting hurt.”
The officer then instructed the Ross to tell neighborhood residents to call 911. He stated that it was a crime and that they could have officers take care of the problem. It is a fair assessment but there is also no one from the University student body to address the claims.

With the University being a large portion of the Ward they should have a seat allotted to them because it makes up one district. When asked about whether or not there is AU representation at the committee hearings the committee responded saying there is a liaison from the University in the audience. The committee then went on to say that there is an extra seat on the committee that hasn’t been filled and should be reserved for a student.

“AU has its own district of 2,000 residents,” Ross said. “We have tried to get a student elected but there is a problem with the board of elections preventing that from happening.”

The members of the ANC would not state what the problem was. Upon further investigation though there seems to be no major problems that would prevent a student from being elected. The District of Columbia web site had only three rules for who can run for the committee as a write in candidate.

The first qualification was for the candidate to live in the Single Member District for at least 60 days prior to the election. To be eligible for the 2008 election a candidate must have moved to the Ward by September 5. Fall classes started August 25 in 2008.

The second requirement is for the candidate to be a registered voter in the District of Columbia. Any person above the age of 18 is able to change where they are registered to vote and college students are allowed to register in the area where there college resides.

The final qualification is that the form for the write in candidacy must be turned in. Even though a student meets all of these requirements there was no announcement about the election. The ANC members and the District of Columbia government could not be reached for comment on why a student could not be elected.

Along with the discussion of American University the meeting also talked about the neighborhood community. The Community Council for the Homeless talked about how to help get the homeless off of the streets. Along with that the People’s Property Campaign asked the ANC to support their movement to save public property in the District of Columbia.

The Marine Corps. Marathon was the final topic discussed. Part of the route goes through a three mile stretch of Ward 3D. As a result the marathon had to come get approval from the Committee to disrupt traffic for two hours.

ANC’s are set up by the local government to consider and address policies and issues that affect their neighborhoods. The issues include traffic, parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licenses, economic development, police protection, sanitation and trash collection. They meet once a month to discuss these issues with input from residents.

The Committee’s purpose is to allow citizens directly affected by government action to express their opinion. The ANC’s present their findings and recommendations to various District government agencies, the Executive Branch and the City Council. Mandated by law they may also present their positions to Federal agencies.

ANC 3D meets on the first Wednesday of every month. Meetings are held in the Ernst Auditorium at Sibley hospital. They start at 7 pm and run for one to two hours. The head of the Committee is Elizabeth Sandza and Tom Smith runs the meetings. They are open to the public and anyone is allowed to voice their opinion on any issue.