D.C. Officials Vexed at Cost, Process of Avenue Closing

Tuesday, May 23, 1995

By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer

In a city whose trademark is slow, grinding bureaucracy, last weekend's closing of two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue NW was surprisingly swift.

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 exist.

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 for sure."

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 visiting.

Closing a street in the District usually requires public postings, hearings and review by the mayor, the D.C. Council and Congress.

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 House grounds.

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 spokesman said.

King said "we would hope" the federal governnlent eventually would follow city procedures for approving permanent closing of the street.

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 structure.

Staff writers Al Kamen and Stephan C. Fehr contributed to this report.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park