At 7 a.m. yesterday, a crew of 10 workmen rolled up with three trucks and a tractor, unloaded their jackhammers and with a rumbling "braak!" began to rip out and replace the cracked and uneven curbs along the 3200 block of Arcadia Place in Upper Northwest Washington.
But Cameron Speth, of 3237 Arcadia, had decided that in this time of tight city budgets, she would rather not have the benefit of such "frilly street repairs." The money could better be spent on financially strapped neighborhood schools, she said.
So Speth took her stand literally. Accompanied by neighbors Joy O'Rourke andMary Rentschler, she stood at her curbside and told the workmen she would not let them touch the nine feet of curb scheduled for replacement in front of her house.
The workmen, after conferring briefly, agreed to skip Speth's curb. They also agreed to skip Rentschler's curb at her request, and continued their work further down the pleasant shaded street.
Throughout the morning, Speth, a member of the home and school board of nearby Lafayette Elementary School, displayed a hand-written sign saying, "Don't Waste Tax $ Better Spent in D.C. Schools."
Up to the night before the jackhammers' blasts on Arcadia Place, Speth had tried to convince curb project supervisor Bill Sebesky of the city's Department of Transportation that the money could better be spent on more pressing problems.
The repair plan for the street had been made almost two years ago, and contracts signed for it at least six months ago, said another DOT official, Charles Williams .
Maybe so, said Speth, but "the point is that nobody asked" if the residents wanted the repairs.
Other neighbors disagreed. Mrs. Ross Wheeler, of 3238 Rrcadia, said she has been after the city to fix cracks in the curb in front of her $180,000 house for three years.
"If everyone is spending a lot of money on their homes, they deserve to have the fronts taken care of as well," said Wheeler, a sculptor, as she pointed to the crumbling edge of her driveway.
Construction inspector Malcolm Short at the scene yesterday appeared unfazed by Speth's one-woman stand.
"It's no problem for us," he drawled. "if she wants that old beatup curb, so be it."
Officials estimated the work they did not do on Speth and Rentschler's curbs would have cost about $540. Williams said, however, that the money will be spent on other curbs. The District of Columbia government scheduled to spend $220,000 on curb repairs throughout the city this year.
As birds chirped in a nearby Korean cherry tree and children ran barefoot on neatly clipped lawns, the construction workers, oblivious to the protest, sat on the sidewalk munching chicken and sipping cold drinks on a break.
"We need the jobs," said one worker.