Testimony of Leah Harnish
March 26, 2019
Budget Oversight Hearing D.C. Office of Planning
Before the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole
Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson and Committee Members. My name is Leah Harnish and I am the Director of Science and Policy at Casey Trees. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
No matter where you are in the District, you can find trees, that was L’Enfant, Olmstead, and McMillian’s vision: green spaces that not only connected the city, but also the people in it. Today, the Office of Planning continues this tradition through its mission to preserve and revitalize neighborhoods in all eight Wards. Casey Trees commends the Office of Planning for its role in creating and protecting District parks and open spaces and its positive engagement with the community on urban design and land use planning.
We appreciate Mayor Bowser increasing funding for personnel services and urge the Committee to approve this proposal. The Office of Planning plays a significant role in developing our city, and with our population growing and more development on the horizon, it is vital that Planning staff is adequately supported so they can propel our city into the future.
The Office of Planning’s role in creating and updating the city’s Comprehensive Plan is fundamental to keeping us on track to meeting our various tree canopy, environmental protection, and sustainable development goals. Because of this, we applaud the Mayor’s significant increase to the Office’s Citywide Planning budget and we strongly urge this Committee to follow the Mayor’s lead and support this funding. The Comprehensive Plan is the blueprint to our city’s future. Therefore, we must ensure that there will be funding for proper planning and design to ensure its success.
However, we are concerned that the proposed decrease in design funding will prevent communities from receiving all of the benefits of the Comprehensive Plan because of a lack of funding for adequate review of large-area development plans. With large projects like the RFK Campus being considered, it is imperative that good design practices are followed and that every phase of a plan is properly reviewed and in the best interest of the communities that will be affected. We must ensure that both current and future large-area developments will receive the oversight that these funds support in order to ensure that all current and future developments have progressive planning, high quality urban design, proper community engagement, and comply with all District environmental plans. Therefore, we request that, rather than decrease funding for neighborhood design, this Committee approve funding at FY 2019 levels1.
But the Office of Planning’s work goes beyond these large-scale designs, they also assist neighborhoods in planning for their own futures through Small Area Plans. These plans provide neighborhood level goals that cumulatively will help the District reach its environmental vision. Unfortunately, many of these plans have stalled. We appreciate the Mayor proposing an increase in funding for neighborhood planning and ask this Committee to approve these additional funds and urge the Office of Planning to use them to make progress both in increasing the number of neighborhoods with Small Area Plans and helping neighborhoods that currently have Small Area Plans to progress toward their goals.
Finally, we appreciate Mayor Bowser’s proposal to increase funding to both the City’s geographic information systems and state data center and we urge the Committee to also support them. As an organization that frequently uses Open Data D.C., we appreciate the thoroughness of the information provided and are happy to see that support for these programs is growing. We hope you too will choose to support these important data management systems.
Without the Office of Planning, our City would not be what it is today. Casey Trees supports the Office of Planning and newly appointed Director Andrew Trueblood in their efforts to guide development throughout the District and we look forward to seeing the Office of Planning drive our city into a green future.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify and I welcome any questions.
1FY 2019 approved funding: $3,268,000; Proposed FY 2020 funding: $3,206,000. That is a $62,000 decrease.