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
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
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.
THE WASHlNGTON TlMES
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park