Long before the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions were created, the Brightwood neighborhood in Northwest Washington had a tradition of coping with local problems through small, informal block clubs. The clubs, made up of citizens who live in three or four blocks areas, worked together to tackle the pesky problems that plagued the neighborhood - problems like poor trash collection, broken street lights, and inadequate stop signs or traffic lights.
When the ANCs came along, they formed a partnership with the clubs and have been working together ever since.
Hank Larsen, who represents the Brightwood area as the commissioner for ANC4A04, has been involved with block clubs in Brightwood area since he moved there 10 years ago. When Larsen was elected, he thought the block clubs were a natural way to build strength for the new ANCs.
While the block clubs could get some District officials to pay attention to their problems, they didn't always have success with other agencies, Larsen said.
"Some of the agencies didn't think they had to do what the citizens asked them to do. But the ANCs have a mandate and we have to be dealth with," Larsen said.
Now, when there is a problem, the ANC can call the responsible agency and demand action, Larsen said.
"Every time we make a phone call on behalf of someone or relating to a problem, we keep a record of who we talked to and we can refer to our notes to make sure that the problem was taken care of and how long it took," Larsen said.
The neighborhood Larsen represents is bordered by Georgia Avenue, Underwood Street, 14th Street and Ft. Stevens Drive.The neighborhod doesn't have many people who can afford to take time off from their jobs to work on community issues as people sometime do in Adams Morgan or on Capitol Hill. But the block clubs are a very good resource, according to Larsen.
"The block clubs have their place and they have joined the ANCs so that we can take on problems in a unified manner. We can also work on problems that affect more than the three or four block areas they used to deal with," Larsen said.
After Larsen was elected to represent his neighborhood, he spent six months working on small crises.
"They were the kind of small things that were terribly important to the people who had the problems. We helped them get the heat turned on or the trash picked up. And gradually, we started taking on larger problems," he said.
One of the first things Larsen did when he was elecged was to try to get the two areas in the ward which did not have ANCs to put up qualified candidates in the November, 1976, election:
"Two areas simply couldn't get people to qualify in the first election. I guess a lot of people in those areas didn't know much about what the ANCs were supposed to do or they didn't care," he said. He helped set up workshops for the people who wanted to run for the offices to teach them the duties and responsibilities of the job.
"I had a little more experience than they did at the time, and I thought I could help the candidates by passing along what I had learned," he said.
Now that all of the areas are represented, the ANCs in Ward 4 have started to work together. "The problems aren't isolated; they relate to each other.
"The problem of high property taxes, for example, affects us all and it can't be solved by one group working alone. We have to be unified," Larsen said.
One of the biggest problems facing the neighborhood now is the expansion of Walter Reed Army Hospital. With expansion and additional employees, more employees will have to park on the stree, Larsen said. He said area residents have been meeting with hospital officials to get some assurances that the problem will be taken care of by providing parking on the grounds of the new hospital wings.
The ANCs in the ward are also concerned about traffic problems when the new Silver Spring Metro stop is built just off Georgia Avenue. Parking around that stop may also be a problem, he said.
What the residents need to combat parking problems around the hospital and the Metro stop is a parking ban for a long-term parkers, he said. That is another of the isues they are working on in the ANCs in Ward 4, he said.
Larsen said that now that the ANCs and the other groups working with them have started getting results, the residents expect them to do even more.
And that doesn't bother Larsen at all. He thinks that's what his job is all about.
"We don't win them all, but we make a hell of an effort," he said.