D.C. ponders closure battle

Officials question orders of Clinton, Secret Service

By Brian Blomquist

Two days after the president ordered Pennsylvania Avenue closed in front of the White House, D.C. officials are questioning his authority to do so.

Mayor Marion Barry considers the closure a temporary proposition, an aide said yesterday, and city officials are preparing to bill the federal government for lost parking-meter revenues - which could reach $752,000 a year -- and any other costs related to the street closing.

"Legally, we consider this to be a temporary closure until the paperwork has been worked out," said Johnny Allem, a spokesman for the mayor. "There is a procedure for closing a street in the District. There has to be a public hearing."

The process for closihg a street or aliey in the District begins with a $1,435 filing fee to the D.C. surveyor. The application is then reviewed by the Fire Department, Housing Department and Historic Preservation Board and Planning Office and then sent to the D.C. Councii for approval.

As of yesterday, no one had applied for permission to close any portion of Pennsylvania Avenue, according to the D.C. Department of Public Works.

Treasury Department officials said they don't need to apply to close the road because they don't need permission from the District to do so.

"Federal interests take precedence over the District's interests because of the unique nature of the street," said Edward S. Knight, general counsel to the Treasury Department, which ordered the avenue's closure.

He said federal law "provides the secretary of the Treasury the authority to direct the Secret Service to do what is necessary and appropriate to protect the president, including closing of streets.

The Secret Service, worried about presidential security in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, closed the avenue in front of the White House early Saturday with little warning to the public or city officials.

Mr. Barry said through an aide that a Treasury official told him Friday night the road would be closed the next morning. D.C. Council member Jack Evans, whose Ward 2 includes the White House said no one consulted the council. He is calling for hearings to determine if the street closing is legal.

"My staff is looking into what happened, if they can do it and under what authority," Mr. Evans said. "I'm opposed to what they did and the manner in which they did it - essentially sneaking out in the middle of the night to close the street.

"The Secret Service has wanted to close Pennsylvania Avenue for 10 years," he said. "I think they saw a crack in the door [after the Oklahoma bombing] and just went for it.

Council Chairman David Ciarke said he's not sure whether the city or the federal government owns Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. He said a 1983 D.C. law gives the city final say over street and alley closings, but it was based on a 1932 federal law, and it's "not entirely clear" which law prevails.

"If this closing is going to be permanent, there will have to be that determination," said Mr. Clarke.

Treasury officials said the street is federal land and part of the National Capital Service Area. David Julian of the National Capital Planning Commission said that panel - on which Mr. Barry and Mr. Clarke have seats -- will have to approve any changes to Pennsylvania Avenue.

While the legality of the closing is being debated, police are trying to figure out who patrols the street that is fast becoming another downtown plaza with in-line skaters and skateboarders among the pedestrians.

"It was our jurisdiction," said D.C. police spokesman Sidney Bennett. "As far as I know, it's still ours. But we don't have anything to do there."

But the Treasury Department's Mr. Knight said the Secret Service and U.S. Park Police have primary domain now.

"D.C. has policed that street on behalf of the federal government." he said.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park