The proposed U Street liquor license moratorium is in trouble. A crowd of over 100 local residents filled the gym at the Thurgood Marshall Center on 12th Street NW on Wednesday night for a joint ANC 1B, 2B, and 2F listening session on the moratorium. Over 85 percent of the (by my count) 58 citizens who spoke at the meeting said they opposed the plan, which would block new liquor licenses from being issued to bars, restaurants, and other establishments within an 1800-foot radius of Ben’s Chili Bowl. Speakers were age-diverse but mostly white, with a few exceptions.
You can read the full text of the moratorium proposal here and my previous post on the moratorium here, but here’s what the moratorium area would look like:
Key ANC1B commissioner a likely no vote
The widespread public opposition to the moratorium plan wasn’t the only bad news for its supporters, who are led by the Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, a neighborhood group that limits its membership to people who live in an eight-square-block area in the southwest quadrant of the proposed moratorium zone. Jeremy Leffler, the ANC 1B02 (map of boundaries here) commissioner who chairs the ANC 1B ABC (liquor license) committee, strongly hinted he opposes the plan. “I think the community has spoken,” he told me after the meeting. “I hope they continue to show up and speak and not just when there’s a controversial issue. The point of having a neighborhood and the community is hearing from the community and not a select few.” Leffler opposing the plan would make sense politically, too: He has said his constituents oppose the moratorium “100 to 1.” We’ll find out for sure what Leffler thinks on Thursday (March 21, a.k.a. this evening), when Leffler’s ANC 1B ABC committee votes on the moratorium idea.
ANC 2F, the very northern bits of which (single member districts 2F01 and 2F04, map here) fall in the moratorium zone, will be the first ANC commission to officially weigh in on the proposal, on Wednesday, April 3. ANC 1B’s commissioners, who represent the vast majority of the moratorium zone, are scheduled to vote the following day, Thursday April 4 at the Reeves Center at 14th and U. The March 21 vote of Leffler’s committee will surely affect that decision. Only a tiny finger of ANC 2B (map), mostly Noah Smith’s 2B09, between 14th and 15th and S and U, and a sliver of Kishan Putta’s 2B04, fall in the moratorium zone, but that ANC will weigh in as well—on May 8.
DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Agency (ABRA) gets the final call on the moratorium, but it has to give “great weight” to the ANCs opinions on the issue. That means if the affected ANCs oppose the moratorium, it’s unlikely to become law. And that means how your ANC commissioner votes will matter.
My initial whip count and further observations follow. (Here’s a spreadsheet version of the whip count, complete with ANC commissioners’ emails.) If you live in ANCs 1B, 2B, or 2F, you should email your commissioners, explicitly ask them their positions on the moratorium, and let me know what they say: nickbaumann [at] gmail.
ANC2F whip count: Fanning (2F04) opposed, Raymond (2F07) likely no, rest of 2F seems to be leaning against
ANC2F votes first, so we’ll talk about it first. John Fanning, who represents 2F04, is a definite no. He told me Wendesday that his fellow 2F commissioners were “mostly all leaning against” the moratorium, “especially” after the massive public opposition evident Wednesday night. “It was very convincing, no?” he added. This Borderstan report on 2F’s March 14 meeting backs up Fanning’s claim. “I have a lot of problems with this,” 2F07’s Matt Raymond, who chairs 2F, said that night—but he promised to reserve judgment until after the town hall. (Presumably the town hall did not change his mind.) As the only 2F commissioners to represent part of the moratorium zone, Fanning and 2F01’s Peter Lallas will presumably be key players in that ANC’s vote. (Fanning also chairs 2F’s ABC committee.) I’ve reached out to Lallas to ask his position on the proposal. But it’s hard to imagine 2F going against its chair and its ABC committee chair on this, so this ANC may already be a done deal.
ANC1B whip count: Jilani (1B12) and Lefler (1B02) likely nos; Reinoso (1B05) undecided, nine question marks
ANC 1B’s commissioners represent the bulk of the moratorium zone, so how they vote will have a huge impact on the process. A neighbor I trust told me that 1B12’s Zahra Jilani, who’s my commissioner, opposes the moratorium; based on my conversations with her I think that’s probably accurate. Leffler, as I mentioned above, is a likely no vote; we’ll know more on Thursday night. Ricardo Reinoso (1B05) seemed undecided at last month’s ABC meeting; I’ve emailed him to see if anything’s changed. The rest of the ANC 1B commissioners haven’t been making themselves known at the meetings on this issue. 1B07-1B10 aren’t in the zone, but all the rest of 1B’s SMDs are. I’d love to know where all those commissioners stand. Email them and tell me what you find out.
ANC2B whip count: Smith (2B09) undecided, eight question marks including Putta (2B04)
Kishan Putta (2B04) and Noah Smith (2B09), the only two of the nine 2B commissioners whose districts fall within the moratorium zone, will be key in that ANC’s vote. But 2B is not very far along in considering the issue and is planning several more listening sessions. “It’s still early for us but I have heard from a lot of my constituents on both sides,” Smith told me Wednesday night. “I think as of right now I’ve probably heard more negative than positive.” You can mark him as undecided. Former 2B09 commissioner Ramon Estrada praised the Dupont moratoriums at last month’s ABC meeting, so there’s a decent chance he may have supported the moratorium if he were still in office. I’ve emailed Putta for comment; his campaign website doesn’t appear to make mention of the issue. The real question mark are 2B’s other seven commissioners, whose districts do not fall in the moratorium zone at all. Email these people! One of them, Abigail Nichols, who just won a special election for 2B05, founded the Alcohol Sanity Coalition DC, but her public statements on moratoriums have been vague, so I’m going to rate her as “undecided.”
Other key community members announce opposition
Former ANC 1B05 commissioner Brianne Nadeau announced her opposition to the moratorium proposal on Wednesday night. So did JBG, the developer behind several local projects. The owner of DC9 also showed up to register his opposition—despite, as he noted, the fact that the moratorium would instantly increase the value of his liquor license by tens of thousands of dollars. John Carlos Green, who narrowly lost the 1B12 race to Jilani in November, reiterated his opposition (announced during the campaign) to the moratorium. Representatives from the Urban Neighborhood Alliance and the DC Nightlife Association announced their opposition to the plan. Brian Card, the president of the U Street Neighborhood Association, announced his personal opposition to the moratorium, but I don’t think he was speaking for the group. Scott Pomeroy, of the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, also announced his personal opposition to the plan. (I’ve corrected this paragraph to note that Pomeroy’s opposition was personal, not on behalf of his organization, and that it was the owner of DC9, not a 9:30 Club owner, who spoke up. Sorry—this was written late at night.)
Perhaps the best new spokesman for moratorium foes was a gentleman who said he doesn’t drink at all but still opposes the plan because he likes hanging out at the local restaurants and taverns sober. Another opponent of the moratorium expressed annoyance that such a small group of area residents was even allowed to propose a moratorium and suggested changing the process to raise the filing threshold.
Moratorium proponent’s “jihad” rhetoric draws laughs
One moratorium proponent spoke of a “smear campaign” on “blogs” and a “pro-business, anti-resident jihad” against the moratorium. That got a lot of laughs. Otherwise, moratorium proponents’ rhetoric remained largely the same: They say it will help alleviate parking and traffic problems; reduce noise, trash, and crime; and bring more non-alcohol restaurants (read: retail) to the area. Moratorium supporters also reiterated their misleading talking point that DC government defines “overconcentration” of liquor licenses as 18 or more licenses in an area the size of the moratorium zone. That’s not true. The moratorium proponents’ strongest new talking point is a quote from Cathy Lanier, the chief of police, arguing that blocks that have 10 or more licensed establishments require “four times” as much police manpower as blocks with nine or fewer. It doesn’t seem logical that 10 bars or restaurants would be a magical tipping point like this, but the Lanier quote may have the power to change some minds. (One counterargument might be that added revenue from licensing more establishments can pay for more cops as needed. DC has money.)
Support for moratorium not limited to SDCA
Opponents of the moratorium should not fall into the trap of believing that its supporters are limited to the members of the Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, the group that filed the petition. Proponents of the idea may have been discouraged by the flood of support at the listening session; I heard much more clapping for moratorium opponents than you might expect given that only six or so people spoke in favor of it. I personally counted two or three moratorium supporters near my side of the room. The ANCs have not even voted yet. And remember: ABRA, which is unelected, ultimately doesn’t have to listen to the ANCs if it has a good reason. This fight is far from over.
Conclusion: The SDCA’s strategic error
The people behind the moratorium petition see it as a last-ditch, desperation maneuver to save their neighborhood. But from a longer-term perspective, it seems to have been a strategic overreach. The moratorium issue has galvanized what I’ll euphemistically call “pro-development” residents, even leading to the creation of a new group, Michael Hamilton’s In My Back Yard DC. Although some of the people activated by this controversy will undoubtedly become less involved as time goes on, others won’t (several area residents and moratorium foes promised as much at Wednesday’s meeting)—and SDCA’s agenda will be harder to enact because of that. If their moratorium gamble fails, SDCA’s members may regret making such an aggressive move when they could have instead tried to use ANC 1B’s ABC committee to delay and deter the granting of new alcoholic beverage licenses. And if Wednesday’s town hall was any indication, SDCA’s members drastically overestimated the support their idea might garner.