Sherwood's Notebook: A Side-Eye to Sidewalk Ban

We live in a dangerous world.

It’s worth saying again.

We live in a dangerous world.

But, really, a spit of a sidewalk is too dangerous to keep open to the public?

We’re referring to the sidewalk on the south side of the White House along what used to be E Street NW before the street itself was closed and turned into a parking lot for security personnel and miscellaneous vehicles.

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service announced that the sidewalk adjacent to the White House fence no longer would be open to the public. Tourists and others are being relegated to the other side of the old street, about 25 feet farther away. Tourists will have to use their zoom features a little bit more.

This little sidewalk section already was closed from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. each day. That sounds reasonable. But is it such a security threat — or nuisance — that it has to be closed 24/7?

We have visited and revisited this impulse to close down iconic American spaces rather than efficiently protect them. Back in September 2014, we wrote about this subject yet again after a fence-jumping intruder prompted the Secret Service to block off even more of what used to be 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Now it’s part plaza and part security compound.

Here’s what we wrote:

"There’s no doubt that providing 24/7 security is a tough and demanding job. The potential for boredom or fatigue can sap even the most earnest guard. That’s why they change shifts, walk, ride and patrol. Staying alert is the crux of the job.

"Simply enlarging the secure area is an easy way to lessen the task. Well, it is until some deranged person, criminal or terrorist decides to take out the new screening posts. Then we would need more expansion?”

Over the weekend, one person offered this reaction on Twitter to the new restrictions being considered: “Man manages to climb the fence, the INTERIOR security fails at all levels, & the people outside need to stay further away? Um…”

That about sums it up. Do we need to stop allowing tourists, veterans, families and foreign visitors to stand near the high White House fencing because the security team on the other side was caught napping?

Somebody needs a wake-up call. But it’s not the free American people.

That’s how we ended the 2014 column. But there is no end in sight to the chipping away of what once was America’s unique openness.

■ Your Notebook in Virginia. You may not have noticed, but there is a heck of a race for governor in Virginia. We’ve interviewed both Democrats — Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello — on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU Politics Hour. Now, your Notebook will moderate a live, one-hour debate Saturday night in Fairfax County. NBC4 will live stream it on the web.

The debate is being sponsored by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and EmergeUSA.

The primary is June 13. Can Democrats hold their statewide victories for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general this November?

Republicans have not won any statewide office since 2009. Republican front-runner Ed Gillespie hopes to change that. First, he has to get past Prince William County’s Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach. But Gillespie leads in polling and fundraising. He’s raising GOP hopes because he came within a whisker of defeating Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.

■ They’re going to pot. A CBS News poll has found that 61 percent of Americans support the legalization of recreational marijuana. The poll showed half of the respondents acknowledged trying the drug. The new polling shows a 5-point increase from 2016 and a huge jump from only 27 percent approval in 1979. The poll also revealed a generation gap, with respondents over 65 being the most averse. (That surprises your Notebook. We’re in that age group. This older group was part of the pot haze of the ’60s and ’70s.)

It’s important to remember this: Federal laws involving marijuana likely won’t “lighten up” under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He’s opposed to legalization, saying it minimizes the “very real danger” of marijuana. Somewhere on an island in the Pacific, and elsewhere, people are waiting to see what happens next.

■ The Parks at Walter Reed. That’s the new name for a 3-million-square-foot redevelopment of the old Army hospital grounds in Ward 4. It honors both the historic hospital once active here and the unique green space.

About 66 of the 113 acres are being turned into housing, retail, education, parks and other uses by the city in a joint development along Georgia Avenue NW. The remaining acres of Walter Reed land, specifically on the 16th Street NW side, are being turned over to the U.S. State Department for new embassy construction.

The District’s redevelopment is a favorite of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who once represented Ward 4 on the D.C. Council.

“It will be a fantastic collection of housing,” she told us at a ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday. She said new retail here also will stem the need for many residents of this area to go shopping in the suburbs. It’s called “leakage” in the world of retail and government taxes. The city in recent years has made a major dent in “leakage” to the suburbs. It can only help the District to provide for its citizens.

(The Notebook will admit to buying a small coffee pot at Pentagon City last week. We feel bad about it.)

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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