Letters to the Editor: May 3, 2017

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Family leave needs level playing field

My business cheered when the D.C. Council passed the Universal Paid Leave Act in December by a strong majority after more than a year of deliberation. We are dismayed the mayor and some council members are now trying to delay start-up funding and exclude the smallest businesses.

I run Springboard Partners, a communication firm with a team of four people. We can’t yet afford to provide paid family leave for our employees on our own. But we know it’s essential to provide these benefits. Being unable to offer paid leave means we cannot compete with larger companies in our field when it comes to recruiting and retaining the best talent.

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We’ve run the numbers, and our costs to pay into the system will be under $1,500 per year. Budgeting to pay this exceptionally modest amount into the public program will be absolutely manageable for us — and it means that we don’t have to risk the financial future of our business for the weeks or months a team member is on leave.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh has proposed changes to the program that exclude companies of our size from the program. This places us and nearly 8,000 other D.C. businesses of our size at a huge disadvantage.

Community leaders talk a lot about family values, but when it comes to making policy choices, too few actually value families. I’m proud that D.C. is a national leader in policy that invests in families, from near-universal health coverage for children to universal pre-K — both of which enjoy the strong support of our community’s businesses. The Universal Paid Leave Act is the logical next step.

The council should move forward in May to fully fund the launch of paid family leave for all D.C. businesses in this year’s budget. The mayor should support that action without delay.

Danielle Lewis
Owner, Springboard Partners

Washington Gas shows lack of accountability

In 2010 there were almost 6,000 natural gas leaks under D.C. streets, according to researchers from Duke and Boston universities. We can only imagine how much worse the situation has become since then. Although Washington Gas Light Co. launched a 40-year pipeline replacement program, there has been no direct communication from the utility about any progress and how it is addressing new or reoccurring leaks.

My neighbors and I in Georgetown’s East Village haven’t received any information from the gas company about the nature of its many recent repairs in our neighborhood, the results of that work, or the condition and safety of the pipes and gas-related infrastructure. The company provides no assurance or guidance about the completion of its work or the need for future repairs. We deserve accountability, transparency and communication from Washington Gas about its work on gas pipelines above and below the streets in Georgetown.

The tipping point for me was when I called the gas company in March to find out the status of its investigation and repairs concerning the strong smell of gas outside my front door that I had reported several times over the past two years. To my surprise, the utility had no record of my most recent call or the investigation and work it had done outside my house the same afternoon I called. The crew labored at least until midnight in the freezing cold. But they never returned to finish the work, and the gas company did not have the courtesy to follow up with an update about the matter.

That experience led me to launch a blog at GeorgetownGasLeaksAndRepairs.wordpress.com and post tweets and Facebook messages that soon attracted the attention of Washington Gas. In a phone call with Huey Battle, the regional manager for community involvement, I recapped my experiences, frustrations and concerns, as well as those of my neighbors. I called on Washington Gas to be fully accountable and transparent and to communicate openly, effectively and directly with all members of our community about its work.

Mr. Battle’s responses did not provide any hope or confidence that his company’s conduct would improve anytime soon, if ever. That is unacceptable. Washington Gas should immediately take ownership of the problem and reach out to all residents.

Based on my experience and career in public relations, a good starting point for reforms would be for the gas company to:

■ communicate directly with residents via email and social media about the repairs they are doing.
■ produce YouTube videos and host webinars to explain the gas pipeline-related problems they are addressing and help people understand the solutions.
■ post easy-to-find updates about repair work on its website and include repair-related information with bills that are sent to ratepayers.
■ partner with local groups and organizations such as the Citizens Association of Georgetown as another way to help connect with residents.
■ hold community-wide town hall meetings co-sponsored and promoted with the advisory neighborhood commission or other local groups.

Georgetown is hardly alone in facing gas pipeline issues. According to a 2014 study by Stanford University, incidents involving natural gas pipelines cause an average of 17 fatalities and $133 million in property damage across the country every year.

The consequences of not dealing effectively and immediately with gas leaks can be devastating. A case in point is the 2010 gas line explosion in San Bruno, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco. The explosion created a 50-foot fireball, destroyed dozens of homes, and killed eight people.
The more we speak up, the more likely the gas company will hear us and provide the specific and up-to-date information we deserve about what they are doing to address these potentially life-threatening problems. Join me in demanding accountability, transparency and communication from Washington Gas. You can reach regional manager Huey Battle at HueyBattle@washgas.com or 202-624-6792.

Edward Segal, a resident of Georgetown, is an author, journalist and public relations consultant.

Visitors need warning about risk of thefts

Many visitors to Georgetown naively assume that merchandise and belongings left in their parked cars are safe. Residents usually know better. In fact, these smash-and-grab crimes aren’t a problem just in Georgetown — they occur throughout D.C., and in all big cities across the U.S.

Recently, I was walking up 31st Street NW late one morning when I spotted a police car. The highly respected Officer Antonial Atkins was standing with another officer next to a car whose two passenger-side windows had been smashed in. On the sidewalk were a distraught mother, her friend and two children. The car’s interior was strewn with glass, and the merchandise and belongings that had been left inside were gone, save for one electronic gadget the thieves apparently missed. I retrieved a broom and helped Officer Atkins finish clearing glass from the car’s interior.

Officer Atkins and I tried to console the visitors. Yet what does one say to someone whose vacation has been shattered by such an experience? Of course we both gently said: “You know that you cannot leave merchandise or belongings visible within a car parked in the city.” But we knew the advice came too late.

This sad situation occurs all too often in Georgetown and elsewhere in D.C., marring the experience of naive visitors. I have personally witnessed the aftermath of at least a couple dozen other Georgetown car break-ins over the last couple of years. Why would these visitors ever wish to return to Georgetown? The word-of-mouth is very damaging to our historic village’s reputation.

Then it hit me: Why not act proactively? Why should visitors not be warned by highly visible signs about the risks of parking and leaving belongings visible? Some would argue that such warnings would be advertising that Georgetown is an unsafe place to visit, tour or shop. I would counter that not warning these visitors does a grave disservice to the Georgetown that we love — and to the many visitors to our village.

Moreover, there are ways of phrasing the warning that can properly point out that the message is not Georgetown-specific. That is why I propose that ample signs be posted not just in Georgetown but throughout the city next to D.C.’s parking-restriction signs, saying the following in large letters: “Alert: Please do not leave packages or belongings visible in your car or van.” And, in smaller letters at the top: “All big cities wrestle with this problem. But we wish to be proactive.”

Edward A. “Chip” Dent, Georgetown