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
Jessica Gould reports:
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 local coffers?
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?”
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 actually happened:
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
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
…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
Daniel Klibanhoff said ping pong players might be tempted to
follow errant balls into the street.
There was one commissioner who ignored these grave pragmatic
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 cafe.
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 happen?
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
And after all that, a couple of commissioners still voted
allowing this businessman to improve his
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
and using reasoned arguments — and tell
Meanwhile, so much for outdoor ping pong on these lovely spring