D.C. Officials Vexed at Cost, Process of Avenue Closing
Tuesday, May 23, 1995
In a city whose trademark is slow, grinding bureaucracy, last
weekend's closing of two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue NW was
No public hearings. No congressional or municipal review. Just
an order from Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin to the director
of the Secret Service, signed late Friday.
By 5 a.m. Saturday, motorized traffic past the White House was a
thing of the past.
Yesterday, District officials began to digest the financial cost
of removing parking meters, loading zones and vending spaces
from surrounding streets to accommodate the increased traffic.
D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) said the city's
director of public works estimated the revenue lost from 371
vanished parking meters at $752,000 a year. He said the city also
would lose money because scores of other parking spaces that had
been reserved as loading zones and vending stands no longer
The question now being studied by some city officials is whether
all this was done in a proper manner.
"If they're claiming to have put up something to protect the
president in a temporary kind of way while they work something
out, I respect their right to do that," Clarke said.
"There should be hearings held on any permanent closings. That's
But the head attorney for the Treasury Department, which
oversees the Secret Service, said the special status of 1600
Pennsylvania Ave. NW gives federal officials all the authority
they need to unilaterally shut down a portion of the street.
"We're dealing with a very unique set of facts and a very unique
piece of real estate, General Counsel Edward S. Knight said.
"Given the facts and given the real estate, the federal interests
are the dominant interest, and the secretary has the authority to
close the street."
Knight said he and Justice Department lawyers concluded that the
closing was legal based on two pieces of exlsting law. The first,
from 1951, gives the Secret Service broad power to protect the
president and the vice president and their families. The second,
from 1971, allows the agency to restrict public access to places
where the president, or others under agency protection, are
Closing a street in the District usually requires public
postings, hearings and review by the mayor, the D.C. Council and
The streets around the White House long have been on the table
for closing. East Executive Avenue alonRside the building was
turned into a White House parking area in 1984. But when the
Secret Service proposed closing the White House part of
Pennsylvania Avenue in 1985, the idea generated wide debate among
various federal and local agencies and ultimately was opposed
by a council resolution.
The plan was dusted off in the wake of the federal building
bombing in Oklahoma and recent breaches of security on the White
Mayor Marion Barry was briefed yesterday by Director of Public
Works Lany King and others on the financial impact and legalities
of the street closing and will issue a statement today, a
King said "we would hope" the federal governnlent eventually
would follow city procedures for approving permanent closing of
Clarke said he is mostly concerned by the loss of revenue to the
city and to businesses that depend on the now eliminated loading
zones and vending spaces on 15th and 17th streets NW between
Cgnstitution Avenue and K Street and on H and I streets between
14th and 18th streets.
"Those vending stands represented the businesses of a number of
people Those people are wiped out," he said Ronald K. Noble,
treasury undersecretary for enforcement, wiIl meet with the
council today, Clarke said, to discuss the revenue loss, as well
as the federal government's assurance that it will pay for
changes needed in traffic lights, signs and other infra
Staff writers Al Kamen and Stephan C. Fehr contributed to this report.
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park