As D.C. libertarians rally around the Jefferson 1 -- you can donate here
-- consider another local put upon by the small tyrants of the D.C.
establishment. His story comes via The Dupont Current, an off-line only
Jessica Gould reports:
In the end it came down to a debate about right and pong.
Why has this good citizen petitioned his representatives?
After a year and a half in business, he
said, the restaurant at 5037 Connecticut Ave. is ready to expand
outside. he requested the commission's support for an application to
build a sidewalk cafe complete with tables, chairs, planters and a
patio. New fencing on freestanding posts would surround the cafe, he
A lovely American story, isn't it? Who doesn't like to see a small
businessman succeed? Who could object to such a man creating a nicer
setting for customers, stimulating the economy and contributing more to
But some commissioners said they were
concerned about Alefantis' past sidewalk use. "Up until yesterday, you
had a ping pong table in public space. Do you have a permit for that?"
asked commissioner Frank Winstead.
Yes, it is absurd that one needs a permit for a ping pong table. I'd be
on Mr. Alefantis' side even if he never sought one. But here is what
He said he had contacted the district
Department of Transportation's public space office and was informed
that, since the table could serve as a kind of advertisement for the
restaurant, it did not necessarily need a permit.
Okay, so this poor guy did due diligence, consulting some obscure
municipal office about a simple ping pong table. You're all set, his
government told him.
Some commissioners, however, remained
unconvinced. "They told you it was like a sign or a plaque? A ping
pong table is not an advertisement," said commissioner Karen Perry.
As it happens, I have seen the ping pong table. I have also considered
securing duel citizenship in some small third world nation whose
national ping pong team is poor enough that I might sneak my way into
the Olympics. In less ambitious moments, I've told my friend Chris Beam
that we should play ping pong sometime. So for me the table most
certainly served as an advertisement.
How foolish, I now realize -- Chris, let me apologize for my recklessness. Why?
...commissioners said they worry about
the perils posed by the ping pong table. "I think this ping pong table
in public space is a safety hazard and I want to see it gone," said
There was one commissioner who ignored these grave pragmatic concerns.
Perry said it was the principle of the
ping pong table that bothered her. "I guess my problem is I can't
approve an application for someone who has knowingly violated the law
for 18 months," she said.
Furthermore, she said, she objected to the fence with the freestanding
posts and would prefer to see planters mark the bounds of the sidewalk
Before I note what happened, consider that all this nonsense is a
pretty major disincentive for a business owner thinking about modest
expansion. Going before the city basically gets you a bunch of scrutiny
as to whether you've ever violated a bunch of petty rules. So what did
Perry proposed that the commission not
object to the cafe, but include a series of caveats in its letter to
the Department of Transportation. The commission would alert officials
to the presence of the outdoor ping pong table, she said...The
commissioners would also note that they did not approve of a rope and
stanchions, had concerns about whether an existing ramp to the
restaurant complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and
questioned the accuracy of the drawings, she said.
Alefantis, apparently broken and resigned to the necessary groveling expected by small tyrants:
"I think they are all good suggestions... also I want to apologize to anyone who was offended by the outdoor ping pong table."
And after all that, a couple of commissioners still voted against allowing this businessman to improve his business!!
The commission passed the motion 3-2
with Klibanoff and Winstead voting against it. Alefantis promised to
move the ping pong table inside the restaurant.
I'm sure these commissioners are perfectly nice people, but their
attitudes toward the proper role of government -- petty, bullying,
imposing lots of unnecessary rules, substituting their personal
preferences for the carefully thought out aesthetic preferences of a
businessman expanding his livelihood -- are gravely flawed. If you
agree why not contact them -- politely and using reasoned arguments -- and tell them so.
Meanwhile, so much for outdoor ping pong on these lovely spring days.