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Matchbox sparks battle with ANC ‘mini-legislators’

Barracks Row commission attempts to roll back restaurant patio hours

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Matchbox, restaurant, gay news, Barracks Row, Washington Blade

Allow a D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) an inch and eventually they fancy themselves rulers.

Along the Barracks Row commercial corridor on Capitol Hill, it’s more like being beaten with a yardstick.

The area’s ANC-6B has taken umbrage at the refusal of popular and well-regarded Matchbox restaurant, on the 8th Street, S.E., business strip near Eastern Market, to kowtow to demands for new restrictions on operating hours. Advisory commissioners are startled by the establishment’s strong backbone. It appears that many neighborhood residents, however, are cheering Matchbox for its courageous and welcomed resistance.

With any luck, the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board will simply toss aside the liquor license renewal protest filed by the ANC. Better yet, the Board should school the group on the legitimate basis for a license protest in an effort to stem a growing tide of regulatory system manipulation by ANCs.

What offense caused the ANC to file a protest opposing the restaurant’s license renewal? What problem generated reports that ANC-6B01 sub-area representative David Garrison exclaimed he was “flabbergasted” at the “audacity of the move” by the restaurant?

Nothing more than Matchbox’s refusal to roll back its existing sidewalk café closing time by two hours each evening in order to comply with an ANC attempt at coercing adherence to a nascent “policy” to extract restricted hours from all existing licensees and new applicants. Not surprisingly, neighborhood reaction has not been favorable to Garrison, his ANC cohorts, or the small number of supporters backing the renegade effort.

A disturbing trend among some ANCs is accelerating moves to impose “cookie-cutter” restrictions on operating hours for hospitality establishments. Logan Circle ANC-2F, for example, previously undertook a similar stance – demanding “compliance” in certain areas with a standardized “policy” requiring early venue closing times throughout the week in exchange for not protesting liquor license applications. Incredibly, this so-called “neighborhood policy” is proposed even on commercially zoned corridors.

These demands are foisted upon businesses not yet open and existing venues in full compliance with city laws. Restrictions in advance of operation or without any substantive evidence of serious violations, legitimate complaints, real problems or even a rational legal justification are egregious.

ANC overreach does not comport with justification for a community review process designed to rectify quantifiable issues or demonstrable problems resolved by restriction. Utilization of a “Settlement Agreement” implies that there is actual evidence both that a problem is real and that an imposed license limitation would serve to solve it. They are not intended as instruments to establish special regulatory policy within an area at the whimsy of neighborhood nannies.

Thrusting a litany of operating restrictions, notably truncated hours of service, at business owners new and longstanding while simultaneously threatening to protest licensing approval absent surrender, is not what city law envisioned. It’s a hell of a way to treat the District’s economic golden goose also providing the amenities for which most residents are clamoring.

Inadequately supervised by the D.C. Council and insufficiently reined in by city agency adjudication boards, ANC delusions of power have spawned the behavior of “mini-legislators” intending to set arbitrary uniform regulatory policies for their small jurisdictions. A lack of oversight and appropriate control has allowed ANCs to circumvent equitable application of governing regulations.

The result is capricious rule-by-the-few and a citywide patchwork of variable operating rights – placing businesses at a competitive disadvantage with venues in adjoining areas or elsewhere in D.C.

The “great weight” consideration that is required to be given ANC advisory recommendations has always been the “great burden” of local businesses and neighborhood development. Even more so as ANCs have been allowed to gradually encroach on the fair and equal treatment of community enterprise.

ANC abuse of the merely advisory role embodied in their name, contrasted with efforts to stealthily expand their power, should be halted. More important, their grandiose power grabbing underscores the need for long-overdue regulatory reforms in this arena.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. I'm just sayin'

    May 22, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Spoken like someone who doesn’t have to contend with the noise and intrusion that these sidewalk seating areas and summer gardens inflict on the neighboring residents. At what hour should one reasonable expect to have the peaceable use of their adjoining home? Yes there needs to be some level of tolerance if residents are to co-exist with the amenities that make it a livable neighborhood. However, in most cases the people enjoying the amenities aren’t the ones who suffer the effects or reap the financial gains of the disruption. In almost all cases, if the restaurant owner’s family were being negatively impacted by the outdoor dining, the situation would cease. What does that tell you?

  2. JL

    May 22, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    “adjoining home”? Show us this imaginary home that adjoins Matchbox’s Cap Hill location. There is no residence adjoining it, not on it’s left, not to it’s right, not above it, not in front nor across the street. In fact, show us a home adjoining ANY of the sidewalk café spaces on that block.

    • P streeter

      May 24, 2013 at 4:14 pm

      The poster is not necessarily talking about Matchbox specifically, as this is not just about Matchbox specifically, but the precedent it sets for if every and any bar that wants to be open for all hours of the night.

      • Tom

        May 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm

        By “precedent” you are referring to the precedent of limiting a business owner’s right to enjoy the full privilege of a liquor license and the operating hours that convey with it, without any specific problem or issue other than the sheer audacity of a well-run restaurant standing up to a blatant attempt by the anc to arbitrarily limit all the operating hours on a commercial street, right? (Oh, I guess not…)

  3. JL

    May 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    (auto fill error with it’s for its)

  4. Robert

    May 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Actually,IJS, it tells me nothing. Yes, folks who live next door have a right to be heard, but the writer’s point is that does not warrant a blanket, one size fits all rule, for every establishment in the neighborhood, particularly one from which the neighborhood has experienced few problems. You missed the point, ISJ.

  5. I'm Just Sayin'

    May 23, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    True, I don’t know the bar of which you speak or its juxtiposition in the neighborhood, but I am not so sure a blanket restriction isn’t exactly what is called for. If the rules are consistent and consistently applied, then a bar owner or someone moving “near” said bar can understand the expectations and plan accordingly. What we have now is a piecemeal approach being promoted by a handful of people that in many cases are elected by a handful of people and only hear from a handful of people.

  6. Tom

    May 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Re: I’m Just Sayin’ – May 23, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Exactly. Which is why the citywide regulations on dining/drinking/dancing hours should govern, not some random advisory group’s special restrictions. (Of course a business can choose to close earlier for their own reasons if they want.) Otherwise all we end up with is a hodgepodge of differing rules in different neighborhoods. I would hate to run a business and compete under those kinds of ridiculous limits.

    In Dupont and Logan alot of these ANC types are gay. Maybe that’s why they think they’re Queen of the kingdom?

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Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

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It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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It doesn’t take a miracle

Hanukkah a time for LGBTQ Jews to celebrate full identity

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(Public domain photo)

For Jews around the world, Sunday night marked the beginning of Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah celebrates the liberation of Jerusalem by the Maccabees, a small and poorly armed group of Jews who took on, and defeated, one of the world’s most powerful armies. 

Upon entering Jerusalem, the Maccabees saw that there was only enough oil to light the Temple’s eternal flame for one night. But the oil lasted eight nights — enough time for new oil to be prepared. The eternal flame remained lit, and light triumphed over darkness.

The story of Hanukkah was a miracle. While we celebrate and commemorate that miracle, we should also remember that it doesn’t take a miracle for one person to make a difference. 

The entire world is shaking beneath our feet. The climate is in crisis and our planet is in danger. A viral contagion has claimed the lives of millions, and there’s no clear end in sight. Creeping authoritarianism threatens the entire world, including here at home.

Sometimes it seems like it will take a miracle to solve even one of these problems. The reason these problems seem so overwhelming is because they are — no one person can fix it themselves.

Here in the LGBTQ community, we have made enormous strides, and we ought to be proud of them. But there is so much more work to be done.

Not everyone in our community is treated equally, and not everyone has the same access to opportunity. Black, brown and trans LGBTQ people face systemic and structural disadvantages and discrimination and are at increased risk of violence and suicide. It must stop.

These are big problems too, and the LGBTQ people as a collective can help make the changes we need so that light triumphs over darkness. But it doesn’t take a miracle for individuals to light the spark.

Our movement is being held back by the creeping and dangerous narrative that insists that we choose between our identities instead of embracing all of them. 

The presentation of this false choice has fallen especially hard on LGBTQ Jews, many of whom feel a genuine connection to and support for Israel. They feel marginalized when asked to sideline their identity by being told that the world’s only Jewish state shouldn’t even have a place on the map. And they feel attacked when asked about the Israeli government’s policies during a conflict, as if they have some obligation to condemn them and take a stand simply because of their faith.

One of the ways we can shine our light is to fight for an LGBTQ community that is truly inclusive.

This holiday season, pledge to celebrate all aspects of your identity and the rights of LGBTQ people to define their own identities and choose their own paths. If you feel the pressure to keep any part of your identity in the closet, stand up to it and refuse to choose. 

In the face of enormous challenges that require collective action, we must not give up on our power as individuals to do what’s right. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

The tradition of lighting the menorah each night represents ensuring the continuity of that eternal flame. One of the reasons the Hanukkah menorah is displayed prominently in the windows of homes and in public squares is because the light isn’t meant to be confined to the Jewish home. The light is for everyone — and a reminder that we can share it with the world every day to try to make it better.

As long as we keep fighting for justice, we don’t need to perform miracles. But we do need to do our part so that light triumphs over darkness.

It is up to each of us to map out what we can contribute to create a truly inclusive LGBTQ community. This holiday season, be the light. If you can, donate to a group that helps lift LGBTQ youth in crisis. Volunteer your time to fight for the rights and the lives of trans people. And be kind to one another.

Whether you are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of no faith at all, take this opportunity to share your light with the world. It doesn’t take a miracle to do that.

Ethan Felson is the executive director of A Wider Bridge.

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Opinions

Trend of banning books threatens our freedom

‘History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas’

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National Book Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

I knew Helen Keller was a DeafBlind activist. But, until recently, I didn’t know that some of her books were torched.

Nearly 90 years ago, in 1933 Germany, the Nazis added “How I Became a Socialist,” by Keller to a list of “degenerate” books. Keller’s book, along with works by authors from H.G. Wells to Einstein were burned. 

The Nazi book burnings were horrific, you might think, but what does this have to do with the queer community now?

I speak of this because a nano-sec of the news tells us that book censorship, if not from literal fires, but from the removal from school libraries, is alive and well. Nationwide, in small towns and suburbs, school boards, reacting to pressure from parents and politicians, are removing books from school libraries. Many of these books are by queer authors and feature LGBTQ+ characters.

Until recently, I didn’t worry that much about books being banned. My ears have pricked up, every year, in September when Banned Books Week is observed. Growing up, my parents instilled in me their belief that reading was one of life’s great pleasures as well as a chance to learn about new ideas – especially, those we disagreed with. The freedom to read what we choose is vital to democracy, my folks taught me. 

“I don’t care if it’s ‘Mein Kampf,’” my Dad who was Jewish told me, “I’ll defend to my death against its being banned.”

“Teachers should be allowed to teach it,” he added, “so kids can learn what a monster Hitler was.”

In this country, there have always been people who wanted to ban books from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by writer and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe to gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.”

In the 1920s, in the Scopes trial, a Tennessee science teacher was fined $100 for teaching evolution. (The law against teaching evolution in Tennessee was later repealed.)

But, these folks, generally, seemed to be on “the fringe” of society. We didn’t expect that book banning would be endorsed by mainstream politicians.

Until lately.

Take just one example of the uptake in book-banning: In September, the Blade reported, Fairfax County, Virginia public school officials said at a school board meeting that two books had been removed from school libraries to “reassess their suitability for high school students.”

Both books – “Lawn Boy” a novel by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by non-binary author Maia Koabe feature queer characters and themes, along with graphic descriptions of sex.

Opponents of the books say the books contain descriptions of pedophilia. But, many book reviewers and LGBTQ students as well as the American Library Association dispute this false claim.

The American Library Association honored both books with its Alex Award, the Associated Press reported. The award recognizes the year’s “10 books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”

Given how things have changed for us queers in recent years – from marriage equality to Pete Buttigieg running for president – it’s not surprising that there’s been a backlash. As part of the blowback, books by queer authors with LGBTQ+ characters have become a flashpoint in the culture wars.

As a writer, it’s easy for me to joke that book banning is fabulous for writers. Nothing improves sales more than censorship.

Yet, there’s nothing funny about this for queer youth. My friend Penny has a queer son. “LGBTQ kids need to read about people like themselves,” she told me. “It’s horrible if queer kids can’t find these books. They could become depressed or even suicidal.”

If we allow books to be banned, our freedom to think and learn will be erased.

“History has taught you nothing if you think you can kill ideas,” Keller wrote in a letter to students in Nazi Germany.

Anti-queer officials may remove LGBTQ books from school libraries. But, our thoughts will not be unshelved.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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