When Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) added millions of federal dollars to the District's fiscal 1984 budget last week to help relieve severe overcrowding at the D.C. jail, city officials might have been expected to hail the action as something akin to divine intervention in the longstanding detention crisis.
Instead, they had a lukewarm reaction to Specter's plan, which involves converting surplus federal and city property in the District to jail facilities.
Some elected officials expressed flat-out opposition to the idea.
"I don't think there is support for expanding D.C. jail facilities in the District of Columbia," said D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy. "The 3,000 acres at Lorton lend themselves to expansion possibilities. If we expand facilities it would be there at Lorton," the D.C. prison in Northern Virginia.
Among the potential sites suggested by Specter, an ex-Philadelphia prosecutor who is now the chairman of the Senate panel overseeing the city's budget, were St. Elizabeths Hospital and Bolling Air Force Base.
Council member Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), whose ward includes both St. Elizabeths and Bolling Air Force Base, said she is opposed to putting jails on either site. She said both are located in highly congested areas that would be an improper environment for detention facilities.
Rolark and others have also said in the past that the city has been unable to find available sites in town for expansion, and if it did there is no guarantee the federal government would be willing to turn them over to the city.
"We'd be glad to explore any option that Sen. Specter thinks of," said City Administrator Thomas M. Downs, but "so far we've not come up with anything."
Federal officials have already said that buildings Specter suggested for use on St. Elizabeths grounds, for example, are being used, Downs said.
At Specter's direction, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week added $26.6 million to its version of the District's fiscal 1984 budget, and the lion's share of those funds--more than $22 million--would go to the D.C. Department of Corrections.
Included in the additional funds for corrections is $2.5 million to convert surplus property into minimum security jails that would provide between 200 and 500 extra beds. Another $3.7 million was put in to pay for an additional 150 jail guards for the new facilities.
D.C. Budget Director Betsy Reveal said city officials are glad to have the extra funds for corrections. She said if the money could not be used for the specific proposals Specter has in mind, Congress might be willing to let the city use it for other corrections programs that would accomplish the same goal.
But Fauntroy said he would just as soon cut the money for surplus property out of the budget as have the city tied to a plan to expand the jail facilities inside the District.
And now the latest from the front lines of the fast-food wars.
Taking a hard-line approach, Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) has asked the mayor for a fast-food proliferation freeze.
Crawford said he "went berserk" when he learned that the old Highland Theater at Minnesota and Pennsylvania Avenues SE had been leased to a Popeye's Chicken franchise. He had hoped the space would be available to relocate a Peoples Drug Store that burned down next door earlier this month.
Crawford said there are too many fast-food restaurants in the area already. "We are becoming a Rte. 1."
In a letter to the mayor, Crawford said the City Council has no legislative authority to change the zoning regulations and asked for a freeze on fast-food outlets in Ward 7.
"As you know, most of these fast-food outlets usually display large, gaudy signs to attract customers, many of whom are motorists," he said. "Because of the long hours of operation, the tranquility of surrounding residential neighborhoods is disrupted as a result of excessive noise."
Pauline Schneider, director of the D.C. office of intergovernmental relations, said she does not believe the mayor has the authority to put a freeze on fast-food restaurants.