Opinion: Power, Parking and Speeding

If you’re not already exhausted from complaining about Pepco or, on an entirely different subject, parking and parking tickets in Washington, we have a few outlets where you can complain some more.

Mayor Vincent Gray recently created a task force on Pepco, its power outages and the possibility of putting more power lines underground. It will hold its first meeting Thursday.

Starting later this month, the D.C. Department of Transportation will hold several public hearings on what should and could be done about parking on city streets. And there is also a task force working on the effectiveness and fairness of speed cameras. (More on these last two later in the column.)

The Pepco task force will meet Thursday at 1 p.m. in the John A. Wilson Building. Organizers had asked the public to sign up by Monday if they wanted to speak, but registration is still open. Residents may also have a chance to comment without advance registration if time permits.

We’re not sure the task force is expecting many members of the public, because the ground-floor room G9 is not very big. But the task force is.

City Administrator Allen Lew, who, if memory serves, hates meetings that last more than a few minutes, is co-chair of this latest mayoral task force creation, called the Mayor’s Task Force of Power Line Undergrounding. The other co-chair is none other than Joseph Rigby, chair of Pepco’s holding company.

The mayor also appointed Matt Frumin of Ward 3 and Herb Harris of Ward 7 to be citizen members of the task force, because a lot of power outages occur in those two wards.

Other government members are drawn from the mayor’s cabinet, along with Public Service Commission chair Betty Ann Kane and People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye. Ward 7 D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander is also serving, even though her Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs is the very committee that’s supposed to monitor such activities.

Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi also is a member, but he, too, has a lot more to do than attend task force meetings.

Two other utility executives round out the membership. One of them is Donna Rattley-Washington, a Comcast vice president in charge of government and regulatory affairs. The other is Karen Campbell, a Verizon vice president for government affairs.

And what will all these public, private and government officials do on their task force?

According to the mayor, the group “will finally develop long-term solutions to these all-too-frequent disruptions.” It also is being told to gather information “to develop plans that will, over time, greatly reduce the impacts of severe weather on our power grid.”

Some might wonder if that isn’t the routine job of the Public Service Commission and all of the utility companies, but we digress.

The task force has until Jan. 31 to report its findings.

• Parking think tanks? Well, that’s what the Transportation Department is calling its planned series of public meetings on street parking issues in Washington. The first will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 28, from 2 to 4 p.m. at One Judiciary Square.

The Transportation Department says its “series of community conversations” could guide a citywide parking plan, something that hasn’t been updated since the department itself was formed 10 years ago.

The transportation agency wants to know how it can strike a better balance of parking needs “of everyone -- employees, residents, and visitors,” all of whom compete daily for space. If you can’t make the first meeting, the schedule for other sessions will be available on the Transportation Department’s website, ddot.dc.gov.

Again, like the task force on power lines, it seems like figuring out how to address routine parking needs might be a normal part of the department’s mission.

But it never hurts to solicit public comment, as long as someone listens to it.

• Speed camera review. It is too early to know what conclusions may be reached by either the parking or Pepco group. But another task force -- this one on city speed cameras -- is expected to come out swinging just after Labor Day.

Put together by Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells, this citizen panel has been studying the city’s growing use of speed cameras and the fines associated with them. Fines are now as high as $250. Some motorists complain that there’s not enough warning that cameras are present. (Of course, if you’re not speeding, it’s not an issue where the cameras are.)

Wells says he’s looking for a variety of things, including “immediate adjustments to certain automated enforcement fines.” Many people believe the city is using cameras to rake in money, not improve safety. Wells says he wants any camera revenue to go solely to road-safety activities.

The Wells task force includes Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh as co-chair, as well as representatives from the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, bicycle groups and the AAA Mid-Atlantic organization, among others. AAA has been one of the most severe critics of the city’s enforcement mechanisms.

On Monday, Wells was just returning from a brief vacation. He told us he hopes to have legislation ready to go when the council holds its first meeting in mid-September. If that happens, it’ll be a bright feather in Wells’ political cap that might get some attention should he wind up in a race for mayor.

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