Cars-for-hire, snow removal, affordable housing, and statehood among topics of busy Council meeting

Because the Council’s regular legislative meeting for November would have fallen on Election Day this year, the Council instead met on October 28th. In one of its longer recent deliberations, the Council faced a broad range of topics, ranging from Affordability to Zion.

By far, the legislation that occupied the Council for the most time, filled the most spectator seats, and garnered the most social media interest in the days prior, was the “Vehicle-for-hire Innovation Amendment Act of 2014.” The goal of this bill is to regulate burgeoning private transportation services, such as Uber-X and Lyft, which enable their members to use a smart phone app to summon and be transported by a vehicle that is owned and driven by another private citizen. Much of the debate on the bill, as well as the nine amendments offered during the session, focused on the degree to which these new services are like, or unlike, taxis. After a wide-ranging discussion on the bill and proposed amendments, the legislation, perceived as precedent-setting in the nation, was passed on a 12 to 1 roll call vote. As this was the second of two required Council votes on the bill, it will now be sent to the Mayor for his signature.

While the intensity of the debate over the Vehicle-for-hire bill was not mirrored by the ultimate vote on the legislation, such was not the case with the “Winter Sidewalk Safety Amendment Act of 2014.” The topic of this bill, which has been repeatedly addressed without closure going back several years, is what actions the District government should take to ensure that the sidewalks outside residential and commercial properties are fully and rapidly shoveled whenever snow accumulates. Under the system that has been in effect since 1922 (not coincidentally, the year of the so-called Knickerbocker storm when 28 inches of snow fell in a single storm, causing a theater roof collapse that killed 98 people), all property owners are required to shovel their sidewalks within the first eight hours after snow has stopped. However, the penalty for noncompliance involves the government itself removing the forsaken snow, then billing back the violator to recoup the cost of the snow removal. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no recorded instance of this process being undertaken.

The bill recently debated by the Council creates a simple system of fines on violators.  It also ensures that those who fail to remove snow because of incapacity, rather than negligence (namely the elderly and disabled) would not be fined under the legislation. In the end, after a heated debate that contrasted with the chilly subject matter, the legislation passed by a roll call vote of 7 to 6. This bill is scheduled for final reading at the next legislative meeting.

By unanimous voice vote, the Council passed the “New Columbia Statehood Initiative and Omnibus Boards and Commissions Reform Emergency Amendment Act  of 2014” and a corresponding permanent bill on first reading. One goal of this initiative is to streamline  the number of dormant or inactive mayoral-appointed commissions. A second prong of the legislation replaces four such dormant commissions which had all shared a statehood focus with two new independent agencies: an Office of Statehood Delegation (OSD), and the New Columbia Statehood Commission (NCSC).  The OSD, with a nearly $250K budget, would provide administrative support to DC’s elected shadow delegation, while the NCSC (comprised of the Mayor, Council Chair, and three-member shadow delegation) would focus on advocacy and fundraising.

Also passed by unanimous voice vote was the “Truth in Affordability Reporting Act of 2014.” This bill is designed to deal with a quandary many District homebuyers face: there is a clear disparity between median incomes in the DC metropolitan area (the standard for virtually any federal or local affordable housing programs) and incomes within the borders of the District exclusively. While the District does not have the power to unilaterally revise how affordability is determined and enforced, it can modify how it reports and what we  internally consider affordability to be.  This bill requires the annual computation and publication of a “District of Columbia Median Family Income,” and its use whenever feasible in local affordability policy discussions.

Passed unanimously by voice vote, the “Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Amendment Act of 2014” mandates that when any District-owned land is redeveloped into a project including ten or more residential units, a percentage of those units must be set aside for affordable housing.  Specifically, 20% (for projects not near transit) to 30% (for transit-oriented development) of these units must be set aside for affordable housing. For rental housing, 25% of the affordable units would be reserved for those earning under 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and 75% are reserved for those earning under 50% of the AMI. For owned units, half are reserved for those earning under 50% of AMI, and half for those earning under 80%.

Lastly, also approved by voice vote, was a change in qualifications for the District’s inspector general. The very rigorous previous requirements, which some view as severely limiting the number of qualified candidates for the job, were scaled back. Then, candidate Daniel Lucas was approved as inspector general by a voice vote.

For details on every vote taken at the meeting, click here.