Better Know a Local Politico: CAG President Jennifer Altemus
Last semester, Vox ran a handful of interviews with members of Georgetown’s local government, the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. We’re breathing new life into “Better Know an ANC Commissioner” this Fall, and we’re expanding it to include other local politicos, too.
For this edition, Vox spoke with Jennifer Altemus (COL `88), the East Georgetown resident who succeeded Denise Cunningham as the President of the Citizens’ Association of Georgetown in May. CAG, along with the ANC, is going to try to exercise a strong hand in the formation of the University’s Ten Year Plan in the coming months, and can usually be found backing new noise and trash policies in Georgetown.
Below, Altemus tells us what CAG members want from University administrators and how her time at Georgetown as a student influences her understanding of town-gown issues.
As a private community group, what ability does CAG have to affect issues pertaining to the University and surrounding neighborhood?
I guess it really depends on what the issue is. We write letters, and we can protest liquor licenses. As far as Georgetown goes, and its upcoming Ten Year Plan, I think we do influence the Zoning Board. If we approve something, it makes it that much easier to pass. We will also be working very closely with the [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] on that, and they take our advice pretty seriously. We’ve already had a number of meetings on the [Ten Year Plan].
What are some of the key issues concerning Georgetown that CAG likes to get involved in?
Of course the Campus Plan. CAG also just formed a new committee that deals just with Georgetown University issues. A lot of times that’s talking about direct quality of life issues. Noisy parties, vadalism, trash [and] people leaving trash everywhere, rats [and] trying to abate them a little bit, noise, [and] pollution. The noise, for example, wakes you up and wakes your kids up, and the neighbors are very concerned about that. We just want the University to be aware of this. And we think they are. We tell them what the problem areas and we give them certain addresses of problem houses.
How responsive do you usually find the University is when you tell administrators about your concerns?
They’re very responsive when they’re talking to us, but not very forthright about what they’ve done to resolve the issues. The rules are there, but we don’t always get a response from the University as to what was done [to enforce them]. Whether there were sanctions, or if students were written up, we would like to know what was actually done in some cases.
We would like the University to be more proactive about these issues. We would like to see DPS officers actually out patrolling the neighborhoods with enough people on the streets to stop [noise] before it becomes an issue. And there is no law that says DPS officers can’t patrol on non-University owned property. This is an extreme example, but if a woman is being raped down the street, I hope [a DPS officer] is not just going to look away because it’s not happening on University-owned property.
How would you characterize the relationship between students and neighborhood residents?
It’s hard to put a percentage on it, but I think of them about eighty percent of Georgetown students are wonderful neighbors, and we love having them in the community. We usually have a student working in the CAG office, we go to restaurants where they work, [and] they are wonderful to have in the neighborhood. Then there are certain houses that year after year are problem houses and are not intersetd in being good neighbors.
Neighbors seem to be taking more action on certain town-gown issues lately. Do you think that recently, some issues have gotten worse?
It’s hard to tell. You have people who say, “I’ve lived here for 30 years and it’s never been this bad,” but you read some old CAG newsletters and you seem the same issues coming up as now.
Do you remember town-gown issues problems being prevalent when you were a student at Georgetown?
I just remember being clueless about it, and never thinking it was an issue. I’m sure we were disruptive, but it wasn’t even something that crossed my mind. That just goes to show, I don’t think most of the students are nefarious. I think that they just don’t realize that, walking down the street or back from bars, their voices carry. I lived off campus for two years and in Nevils one year. But I don’t remember it being an issue.
What do you think of the new group called the West Village People?
I think it’s admirable. They’re just a group of concerned citizens who have gotten together to discuss their concerns, some of which pertain to the University. We have a member of our Georgetown University Committee who is a member of their group who brings their concerns to us. Their living situation is not ideal, [but] they’ve taken the control of their situation and they’re not just out there whining. they have a set of simple complaints and they’re trying to get [them] resovled.
Ideally, what would most members of CAG like to see in the University’s Ten Year Plan?
There are a whole host of things. We would love more dorm rooms on campus. Our ideal would be for all students to live within the University’s walls. We would really like for the GUTS routes to be taken off of small neighborhood streets that can’t support them and for them to not be part of the traffic problem on Reservoir Road. Basically, we would like Canal Road to be used a lot more.
A lot of city buses use the same routes as GUTS buses do currently. Do you ever lobby for those routes to be moved? Why is there so much pressure to move GUTS bus routes?
It’s just the addition the toll [GUTS buses] take on traffic on Reservoir Road and small neighborhood streets. In the past we’ve asked WMATA to use smaller buses rather than the big giant ones [on those routes]. CAG has been very active on transportanion with WMATA, but I’m not sure what the focus was before I came here. Right now we’re in talks with the mayor’s office about not shutting off the Circulator route along Wisconsin Avenue, [because] it services a lot of the neighborhood.
Are members of CAG cognizant of the fact that if you reroute certain GUTS buses through the Canal Street exit, it doubles their travel time?
We’d really have to look at all that. The new campus plan is so unfinished right now. It’s almost a moot point to talk about a new transportation plan, because the [new hospital facilities] will affect things so much.
Having lived off campus for two years when you were a Georgetown students, are you aware of the reasons why students would prefer to live off-campus even if dorms are available on-campus?
I think it would depend on the dorm rooms. If I could have lived in Nevils all four years, that would have been great. I wouldn’t wanna be in New South all four years, but there are nice new dorms out there like at [George Washington] which cater to juniors and seniors.
You talked before about having some sway over the Zoning Board, which approves the Ten Year Plan. Are there Plans the University could come up with in which case CAG would make it hard for it to pass the Zoning Board?
Yes. I couldn’t speculate what that would look like, because there are so many issues in play, but absolutely, yes.