In a wide-ranging discussion of potential changes to the Height Act this morning, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had plenty of criticism to dispense, with targets ranging from "butt-ugly" 1960s architecture to the annoying air-conditioning unit on his roof that prevents him from peacefully enjoying views of the city's skyline. But he saved his biggest dose of incredulity for the D.C. Council and its chairman, Phil Mendelson.
"I heard, to my astonishment, for the first time ever, a rejection of home rule," said Issa, who had asked the city and the National Capital Planning Commission to recommend chances to the 1910 law governing D.C. building heights. "I did not expect people to say, 'Please don't give me authority, I can't be trusted.'"
Issa was referring to two things. The first was a symbolic Council resolution introduced by Mendelson last month in opposition to a proposal from the Office of Planning and Mayor Vince Gray to give D.C. greater autonomy over its height limits. The second was a letter Mendelson subsequently sent to Issa (reprinted below) in which he said he was "shocked to learn through the media" of the city's Height Act proposal, which is "almost universally opposed by citizens throughout the District."
So why is Mendelson so adamantly opposed to a proposal that would essentially take a small amount of power away from Congress and hand it to the D.C. Council? The reason, he says, is that the city government hasn't proven that it can be trusted with autonomy over its building heights.
"Citizens don't trust the government," Mendelson says. "As I wrote to Congressman Issa a week ago, the way the Office of Planning has handled this underscores this sense of distrust."
In his letter, Mendelson lamented that the mayor and the Office of Planning had submitted recommendations to Congress that ran counter to the majority of public testimony on the Height Act—testimony that came largely from the same group of people at Council and NCPC hearings. "It is a core value of our local government that when we disagree with each other we do not go to Congress to get our way," he wrote. "Yet in essence that is what our Executive has done."
There's no small degree of irony in the fact that Mendelson is complaining about skirting the local government in favor of congressional decision-making, when the position he supports is explicitly about allowing Congress, and not the local government, to rule on D.C. building heights. But Mendelson says the Height Act is simply "not a home rule issue."
Read more Mendelson Explains Opposition to Height Act Autonomy: “Citizens Don’t Trust the Government”