A campaign to discourage automobile traffic in the city, the adoption of stricter controls on development and the creation of stronger housing programs to protect renters and hasten home ownership by low-income families were among wide-ranging suggestions voiced at a public forum last week on futre policies and goals for Washington.
The Municipal Planning Office's (MPO) framework for increasing citizen input in resolving policy questions also drew stern criticism from many of the 125 participants in the day-long forum at Howard University.
"It is regrettable that the citizens of the District of Columbia were called in after the so-called goals had been developed, policy issues had been written and the calendar had been set," said Everrett Scott, chairman of the Upper Northeast Coordinating Council (UNECC) citizens' group, concerning a proposed set of 34 policy goals prepared by MPO before the public hearing.
Scott charged that the absence of citizen input at the beginning of the planning process indicated that the District government either "does not understand the principle of public participation" or that the city's policies for future development have already been set "and the citizens are now asked . . . to react to these policies rather than participate in setting them."
"This is only a first draft," MPO director Ben Gilbert told participants during the opening session of the public forum. "There's nothing set or established. We're trying to prepare a plan that we can submit through the Home Rule charter and we're starting that process today: The purpose of these hearings is to be sure that the citizens have the opportunity to express themselves and express themselves very clearly."
Gilbert said the forum was the first of many that will be held during the next two years as the policies and goals are shaped and formalized for review by the City Council, the National Capital Planning Commission and, eventually, the Congress. The next session, scheduled for Feb. 26, will concentrate on health, income maintenances, social services, education, recreation, public safety and culture and history.
Gilbert said that hearing also will include a workshop in citizen participation, which was requested at last week's forum, when discussion included housing and community development, economic development, land use, transportation and the environment.
The transportation workshop produced a suggested outline for a city-wide campaign by the District "to discourage the use of the automobile" through higher parking rates, reduced parking spaces for federal employees, elimination of the use of certain streets as arterials and restriction of certain roadways to car pools and buses.
The environmental workshop produced suggestions that the city proceed with solar energy exploration, and increase its efforts to curb noise and air pollution.
"We're not saying 'no growth' but intelligent growth," explained moderator Harry Murray, also a member of UNECC. "There's no sense in continuing building and increasing the problems we have now."
At the land-use planning workshop, which attracted the largest number of participants, MPO's proposals were altered because participants felt the policies allowed too much leeway to developers. UNECC member John Kelly said the group wanted restrictions "so that the developer can't just come in and develop for development's sake . . . with no value accruing to the community or the city."
Much of the discussion concerning housing and community development centered on the need to greatly increase the amount of subsidized housing available to the poor, give renters some control over their housing, end the "pushing and shoving" of residents out of their neighborhoods, reduce the cost of housing and train people "to be able to elevate themselves into (owning) an affordable home."
"We have to define economic development in terms of our neighborhoods," said Tony Barnicle of upper Northeast. "This has got to involve the residents getting some ownership or control over the way wealth and income is being distributed in their neighborhoods. We can't afford the deterioration of our neighborhoods. If we use the wealth and income for a neighborhood agenda, this will in the long run, generate more jobs and growth than is being done now."
But Norman Glasgow maintained that attracting new industry to bolster the tax base and developing and retaining jobs for "a properly trained labor force" are essential to economic development, "and you can't deal with that on a neighborhood level."
"Washington is not a little cow town composed of a bunch of little neighborhoods," glasgow, an attorney, said. "It's a city that's got to function as a whole. And lately we've been losing jobs and businesses to the suburbs. The whole printing industry is moving out of Washington so rapidly that we've lost something like 5,000 jobs in the last three years."