The Corner Forum
Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003
Issue #20

16 Households on E St. Asked the City to Put Up — And Then Take Down — Signs for Zoned Parking

By Marc Borbely, 536 13th St. NE

Both men submitted petitions with the bare minimum number of signatures needed to get the city to act.

Both petitions contained 27 signatures — one more than half of the 52 households on the 1300 block of E.

As a result of Stephen Whitfield's (1323 E St. NE) petition, the city zoned the block for residential permit parking and put up signs in November informing drivers of the new rules.

Starting Dec. 3, cars parked for more than two hours, on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 8:30 p.m., could be ticketed if they didn't display a Zone 6 permit.

Then, as a result of Julius Evans's (1314 E St. NE) petition, the zoning on the block was lifted, and the signs were taken down. Parking on the block is again unrestricted.

Jennifer Jacobson, the Department of Public Works's Freedom of Information officer (673-6959), provided me with a copy of each of the two petitions, for $10 plus copying costs.

Of the 27 signatures on Mr. Evans's petition, which opposed zoned parking, 16 were from households that had also signed Mr. Whitfield's petition asking for zoned parking.

Why did these 16 signers change their minds? So far, I've spoken with people representing seven of those 16 households.

Mable Hill (1322 E St. NE) said she decided the signs were unnecessary. She said the street's parking situation is problematic only at night and on the weekends. "We don't have trouble in the daytime," she said. On Saturdays and Sundays, however, when she returns from her part-time work, she has trouble finding a space. Originally, when she signed Mr. Whitfield's petition, she hadn't fully realized that the zoned parking would be in force only during the day. "I was just like everybody else — I wasn't thinking."

Lorene Peterson (1312 E St. NE), said she, too, originally hadn't realized that the signs would be effective only during the day. She had signed Mr. Whitfield's petition, first, thinking that it would help reduce the number of out-of-state cars parked on the street at night, when she had trouble parking. But even with the signs, at night, out-of-state cars could be found on the street just as they could before the signs were there, she said. "It didn't make a difference."

Joyce Austin (1328 E St. NE), who signed Mr. Whitfield's petition, said she regrets also having signed Mr. Evans's. She says she signed it only because Mr. Evans had told her that after taking down the 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. signs, the city would put up new signs that would be in effect all day and all night. "I didn't know that it was a counter petition to take them down permanently. ... We wanted longer time. ... By us not checking, we didn't know. ... I would not have signed the paper. ... So many people come on this street and park that it's hard to find a parking space."

Mr. Evans, however, said he never told Ms. Austin that 24-hour signs would be put up. Such signs don't exist, he said. "Maybe she misunderstood it." Mr. Evans's petition is titled "Petition for Residential Permit Parking," with the word "Counter" written in by hand in front of the word "Petition," with one of the petition's sentences — the one stating its purpose — crossed out.

At 1319, John Jones signed Mr. Evans's petition. "No one around here I talked to wanted zoned parking," he said. He said he didn't know why Jaeson Johnson, his sister's daughter's son, had signed Mr. Whitfield's.

Cora Bryant (1320 E St. NE) signed Mr. Evans's petition. Her husband, Joseph, who died in November, had signed Mr. Whitfield's. Mrs. Bryant's caretaker told me Mrs. Bryant was incapacitated and could not speak to me.

The new resident at 1368 E St. NE told me that the Townsends no longer live there. Sharman Townsend had signed Mr. Whitfield's petition, and Anthony Townsend had signed Mr. Evans's.

Talking to some of the households made me wonder about the city's petition requirements: The petitions require signatures from a majority of the households, but who's to say that the signature really represents the household? Wanda Jones (1326 E St. NE), for example, signed Mr. Evans's petition. Carl Jones, in the same house, had signed Mr. Whitfield's petition. Ms. Jones says Mr. Jones signed the original petition and she signed the counter-petition even though the two of them had never spoken about the parking situation. "We've never had a discussion about it," she said. Ms. Jones said she signed the counter-petition because she didn't really feel the neighborhood needed it.

I haven't yet spoken with residents of the other nine households — 1313, 1315, 1317, 1318, 1321, 1330, 1331, 1344 and 1346 — that were represented on both petitions.

Mr. Evans says he decided to circulate the counter-petition when he first received a letter from the city, in November, alerting him to the upcoming restrictions. "We don't need it in this block," he says. "I come home periodically from lunch during the day, and I've never had a problem finding a parking spot in the 1300 block of E Street NE.

After Mr. Whitfield's petition was submitted, Wickey Cartwright, the transportation department's parking specialist and manager for Ward 6, had conducted a survey of the cars parked on the streets and found that 56 — or 86% — of the 65 legal spaces on the block were taken up. 28 of the cars had D.C. tags; 15 had Maryland tags, 9 had Virginia tags, and 4 had other tags, according to a report dated Oct. 9.

But Mr. Evans says, "I've never seen that. ... I don't see a lot of people from Maryland, Virginia or from other neighborhoods park here." He wonders why the report doesn't indicate the time at which the survey was conducted.

Mr. Evans says some of his neighbors told him they had signed Mr. Whitfield's petition without really understanding it. He thinks many thought the zoned parking would facilitate parking at night.

He says the hassle involved with getting a permit, the money required, and the fact that visitors, during the day, would require guest parking passes, and only two guest passes can be issued per year — convinced him to oppose the zoned parking.

"People wanted that parking sticker so they could park near transit sites and not get ticketed," he said. "I didn't think that was right. I didn't think that someone, because of their own personal selfish reasons, should force the entire block to do something."

Some of the residents who had supported zoned parking, however, see things differently. "I really don't think that was fair," said Beverly Carter (at 1376) about the sign removal. Ms. Carter had just paid for permits when the they were taken down, and now she is unable to get her money back. To make matters worse, her daughter had gotten a ticket for parking too long on E Street.

(Mr. Evans, too, says he received a ticket around Dec. 27, but he says the city canceled the ticket after he pointed out that enforcement had already been ordered to stop due to his counter-petition.)

"I really think that we've been shafted," says Rogene Waite, at 1374. "A lot of us went ahead and got the parking stickers. We went to the trouble of going and spending money, and then we had it pulled from underneath us, which is extremely unfair."

One reason zoned parking would have been beneficial, Ms. Waite said, is that the increased parking enforcement would have helped deter more serious crime. "Just the presence of patrols coming through on a regular basis is something very important, especially on this block, which has a consistent amount of drug dealing."

Ms. Waite said Mr. Cartwright (671-0579), told her that the city would consider it too much trouble to reinstate the zoned parking, even if a third petition was submitted. "They refused to consider even putting them back up," she said. "We have no recourse." She said staff members in Sharon Ambrose's office say they have also been told that the unzoning of the block is now a done deal.

Mr. Whitfield himself, though, has not given up hope for zoned parking. "I never give up," he said. Rather, he has been seeking a good alternative. "The best solution is to make a unified, citywide decision to allow people who don't have restricted parking to be able to get a residential parking permit. ... I plan to pursue it through Mrs. Schwarz's office."

He hopes that Council member Carol Schwarz (R-At Large) will introduce and push through legislation allowing all city residents to buy parking permits for their wards, even if they don't live on zoned blocks. He suggests that the permits could simply be more expensive for residents of blocks that don't have zoned parking. He says members of Mrs. Schwarz's staff have already indicated to him that Mrs. Schwarz thinks the current zoned parking system is unfair.

To critics who accuse him of having sought the zoning just to be able to get a zone 6 permit, which will allow him to park in zoned areas near the Capitol, where he works, Mr. Whitfield admits that that was part of his motivation. But he says it's ridiculous that if he has to take the Metro to go to a doctor's appointment, he'll get a ticket if he parks his car near Union Station, where the streets are zoned for residential parking.

Mr. Whitfield also warns that the parking situation on the block will deteriorate further once construction begins at Kingsman Elementary. Construction workers will "take up the whole block," he said. "Word gets out that this is a free block — you're gonna have people parking all over the place."

Meanwhile, he casts his eye over to another street in our area that has submitted a petition for zoned parking. "I applaud the people on Emerald Street, because they went at it, and they're sticking with it — and I hope they don't have to go through what I went through." §