“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton Criticizes National Zoo Leadership for Changing Morning Hours”

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From a press release:

“Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released a letter she sent yesterday to National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly criticizing the zoo’s decision to change its morning hours, from opening the grounds at 6:00 a.m. to opening them at 8:00 a.m., without holding a public meeting beforehand. Norton said she has heard from many constituents who use the zoo grounds to exercise in the morning and who are outraged that a public meeting with the Woodley Park Community Association was held only after the decision to change the morning hours had been made.

In her letter, Norton wrote, “Making decisions that affect the daily lives of District residents requires you to include them in that process, not simply make a unilateral decision and then attend a community meeting as an afterthought. The long experience of democracy is that such public participation before decisions are made yields better and less contentious outcomes. I ask that you respond to the residents’ pleas for a compromise and that you keep community input at the forefront of your decision-making process in the future.”

Norton’s full letter is below.

Dennis W. Kelly

Director, National Zoo

Smithsonian Institution

P.O. Box 37012, MRC019

Washington, DC 20013

Dear Director Kelly:

I write regarding the National Zoo’s decision to open its grounds to guests later in the morning. As you very well know, many zoo neighbors use the grounds in the early morning to walk, jog, or exercise. I understand that the Woodley Park Community Association recently held a public meeting with you to discuss these changes. That meeting should have been held by the National Zoo before it changed its hours. My staff was in attendance at the meeting, and I am told that many neighbors from Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and other areas of the District were dismayed to learn that the zoo was adjusting its hours and disrupting their early morning activities on zoo grounds. The zoo may have legitimate safety concerns as articulated at the meeting, but I will not have my constituents offered the opportunity to provide input only after the zoo has already made its decision. Informing residents of what you intend to do after the fact is autocratic, antidemocratic, and personally offensive to me as the congresswoman who represents the District.

Making decisions that affect the daily lives of District residents requires you to include them in that process, not simply make a unilateral decision and then attend a community meeting as an afterthought. The long experience of democracy is that such public participation before decisions are made yields better and less contentious outcomes. I ask that you respond to the residents’ pleas for a compromise and that you keep community input at the forefront of your decision-making process in the future.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton”

23 Comment

  • Is the main complaint that people like running through the zoo between 6am and 8am, but the zoo doesn’t want to pay to have staff monitor all the areas for an additional two hours? I wonder what the cost savings are, as well as how many people actually run through the zoo. The Eleanor Holmes Norton seems a bit over the top, seeing as the government makes many decisions without first holding public meetings.

    • As I understand it, the zoo’s main argument is that they want their employees and vendors to enjoy free movement throughout the zoo (for maintenance, groundskeeping, animal care and feeding, etc.) without having to share the space with the many walkers, runners, cyclists, and drivers who use the zoo for recreational or commuting purposes. There may be some cost savings but that doesn’t seem to be the main motive as told by the zoo; I’m not sure how much money is really saved by not allowing members of the public to wander through. I suspect that there are probably quite a few people who run, walk, or ride through the grounds at that time of day though.

      • That is what they are saying (safety etc.) But in truth, of course it is money. But money is real. The zoo is part of the Smithsonian – so Elanor needs to take it up with them. Daily lives/desires of district residents and/or “democracy” in community input simply has nothing to do with anything here.

  • This is in her job description now? Not the ANC, since this appears to be a neighborhood situation? I am sure folks are not coming from NE at 6 in the morning to run through the zoo…. I mean really, use your powers for good….

    • Well, the zoo is run by the Smithsonian, which is pseudo-federal. And Norton is DC’s federal pseudo-representative. So it sounds about right.
      .
      I think it affects a broad swath of people, neighbors and otherwise, who might commute through the park. I actually don’t like how it was framed strictly as a neighborhood matter.

  • I find this a bit ridiculous that so many are up in arms that they can’t run through the zoo before 8:00 so hours should not be changed. Run elsewhere. A quick random search of other city zoos shows hours are typically 9:00 to 4:00 or 5:00. The new hours proposed are not unreasonable.

    • I don’t know why people in Woodley Park have a problem. In Mt. Pleasant a lot of people use the Harvard Street bridge to get to the Rock Creek trail for exercise or commuting. When the zoo is closed the gate on the bridge is closed, forcing people to dangerously cross Beach Drive with no crosswalk during rush hour. The nearest alternative route is well over a mile away. It seems keeping the bridge open would be reasonable.

    • what you think about how/when/where people exercise, within reason, is irrelevant. if there are safety concerns, they should be addressed and discussed at a public hearing/community meeting, not decided upon by the zoo without community input, especially because our taxes fund something like 70% of the Smithsonian’s annual budget.

  • Oh, please. A zoo doesn’t exist for joggers. How many people truly come to look at the animals at 6AM?

    • Linc Park SE

      Best time to see the baby panda sans crowds. I used to jog through the Zoo when I lived in NW – and when they first started letting Tai Shan out – he was hella entertaining at 6:30am – rolling around/playing. No crowds. Just usually me and two photogs.

  • I’m a frequent early-morning zoo runner. I don’t understand this decision; there are neither many runners/walkers NOR a tremendous number of workers, zookeepers or equipment out on the paths at that time of day. When we do encounter each other, we greet each other. I’ll really miss going to visit the cheetahs in the morning.

    I think Eleanor’s email is mostly about not holding a public hearing in good sequence, and not being open to feedback from the community. These are legitimate concerns. Living close to the zoo has its pluses (early morning runs) and minuses (traffic). I try to be a good neighbor to the people who visit, and expect the Smithsonian to be a good neighbor to me.

    • I can normally handle the zoo traffic (I live nearby), but when Zoolights is on, like tonight, it turns the whole neighborhood into streets of cars going nowhere. It extends across the bridge into Adams Morgan, down Connecticut through Kalorama to the area just north of Dupont Circle, and up into Cleveland Park.

      Nightmare out there tonight. Some idiot woman sitting at a stop sign at a corner actually backed her car up into into mine. Then she had to the nerve to be threatening to me. When I told her she should look before she backed up (she backed up to let a pedestrian pass – I guess she was part in the crosswalk – I saw her coming back into me, but I couldn’t back up because there was a car behind me and no time, so I just hit the horn, but she banged into me hard anyway), she said she didn’t see me. How do you not see a car sitting behind you with headlights on in the dark – only because you didn’t look. (Her car was not bigger than my smallish car.)

      She was really nasty to me. I had said there appeared to be no damage to my car, just to my back (she did hit me hard and I felt it in strong in my spine, but I didn’t want to spend any more time in that traffic jam waiting to make a report – so I had immediately said she should just go on) – when she got nasty because she said she hadn’t seen me(!!) I said that I was letting her to, that I could call the police, she got all threatening. She came at me and said “call the police – I’ll tell them you ran into me. ” (As if the car sitting behind didn’t see that I was stationary.) A woman in a small old red car with stringy long blond hair, over 60 (or looked it) and fat around the middle with a “Georgetown Law” license place holder.

      What is wrong with people out there? If I do something when I’m clearly in the wrong, especially if I hurt somebody, I’m apologetic.

  • I’d be really interested to now how many of the people complaining of this closure also were FOR to closure of Klingle Rd.

    • Kringle Road was closed because the road fell into Klingle Creek.

      I think you are referring to the decision not to repair and reopen Klingle Road.

  • The tone of the letter is really off-putting, bordering on offensive. Right from the start – “as you very well know?” If a division of the Smithsonian doesn’t consult the public before making a minor operating decision it’s autocratic, undemocratic and personally insulting to her? “I will not have it?” This is not (or should not) be the temperament of a member of Congress, which Norton impersonates every day.

    • It is her lack of education, again.

      • Whoa whoa whoa, I don’t think saying ‘lack of education’ when it comes to EHN is correct or kind AT ALL. Try something else.

      • Blithe

        EHN has both a master’s degree and a law degree from Yale, in addition to her other educational accomplishments. Yup, if you disagree with her reasoning, her conclusions, or even with her tone, there’s plenty of room for rebuttal. She does not, however, lack education by most conventional standards.

    • sorry not sorry if her email’s tone and style offend your gentle sensitivities; get over it. it’s strongly-worded, sure, but it’s factually correct and a reasonable request from a US Congresswoman who represents the people of DC, whose tax dollars fund the Smithsonian institution. if the zoo has concerns, they should be addressed in a public meeting, not simply law handed down from on high. that’s not how democracy works (at least, in theory…).

      • One of the tenets of democracy is that federal agencies are required to hold public meetings before making minor changes to operating procedures? Someone needs a refresher civics course . . .

  • Norton wrote, “Making decisions that affect the daily lives of District residents requires you to include them in that process, not simply make a unilateral decision and then attend a community meeting as an afterthought. The long experience of democracy is that such public participation before decisions are made yields better and less contentious outcomes. I ask that you respond to the residents’ pleas for a compromise and that you keep community input at the forefront of your decision-making process in the future.”

    DC Gun Laws??? Pot, meet kettle.

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