She worked for Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment and later for the U.S. Department of Transportation, but it’s her unpaid role as an ANC 6B commissioner since 2007 that prompted the Capitol Hill Community Foundation to award her its Community Achievement award in 2022. As a strong advocate for her single member district, Kirsten has dealt with many local concerns, including transportation, parks, land use, zoning and historic district issues, and liquor licenses.
Interview with Kirsten Oldenburg
Interview Date: January 28, 2022
Interviewer: Stephanie Deutsch
Transcriber: David MacKinnon
Editor: Bernadette McMahon
photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke
DEUTSCH: This is Stephanie Deutsch. I’m with Kirsten Oldenburg at her house on 12th Street. I was just asking her what year she moved into this house and she’s trying to remember.
OLDENBURG: That is October 1987.
DEUTSCH: October 1987. Where had you grown up?
OLDENBURG: Lots of places because my father was a petroleum engineer, so we moved around a lot as I was growing up. Born in Berkeley [California]; lived in Houston, Texas; Caracas, Venezuela; suburbs of New York City; Berkeley; Seattle, Washington.
DEUTSCH: Any place have a particular hold on your affections or any place you feel particularly …
OLDENBURG: No. Now Washington, because I’ve been here the longest of any stay, anytime, so it’s really what I—Washington, DC is my home.
DEUTSCH: So you’ve lived in all these different places. Where did you go to high school?
OLDENBURG: Well, it was split. I went to, in the suburb of New York City. Sort of in the Yonkers area I think it was called. Then finished up at Berkeley High in Berkeley, California.
DEUTSCH: Gosh, you really were all over the place. What happened then? Where did you go to college?
OLDENBURG: I graduated in the late 50s and I didn’t go to college. University of California is just up the hill from Berkeley High. When I asked my counselor, “Well if I go to college, what will I learn to be?” I was given the options of being a teacher or a nurse or something else. I thought, well I don’t want to be any of those, so my father sent me to secretarial school because he said, “You have to do something.”
DEUTSCH: Oh, those were the days. Did you have a sense of what you did want to be?
OLDENBURG: Well, not until later. I was a secretary and then I got a job as a travel agent, because I had travelled so much. Then I decided at one point that I wanted to become an architect. But architects were very poor. That was in the 80s. So, I decided I go and get an engineering degree because they were looking for women engineers at that time. So, I graduated from Cal—from Berkeley, University of California Berkeley—with an engineering degree in [Materials Science and Engineering]. I studied metallurgy, and I studied steel and aluminum and that kind of engineering.
DEUTSCH: I imagine you were one of very few women.
OLDENBURG: I was one of very few women and all the guys were like five to ten years younger than I was because I was almost 30. So I went to school with these kids who didn’t care a bit about being there. I was like intent. I had to get this done. It was a strange experience. But it wasn’t a normal college experience where you had buddies and do stuff.
DEUTSCH: You were focused on what you wanted to do.
OLDENBURG: Right. I was there to get my engineering degree.
DEUTSCH: So, what happened then?
OLDENBURG: After I got my degree—I had taken a policy course on energy and I decided that I really didn’t want to be a “black and white” engineer where you come up with at specific answer to things. I wanted to go into the policy arena. So, then I went to Seattle, Washington, the University of Washington in their science and technology program.
DEUTSCH: Again, you must have been one of very few women.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, that was true and again older than most of them. I think I only did a year there because they—Washington state was in dire financial problems, so they were cutting back on a lot of things and the university got cut back and my program got eliminated. So, that’s when I came to Washington, DC, in order to finish up at George Washington University because they have a science and technology program there.
DEUTSCH: What year did you come to DC?
OLDENBURG: I’m going to have to look that up Stephanie.
DEUTSCH: It doesn’t really matter.
OLDENBURG: While I was in George Washington University, [the Office Technology Assessment in Congress, was] looking for somebody who had a materials background. So, [OTA] contacted the university, and I ended up working at the Office of Technology Assessment long before I finished my degree, so I had to [finish in evening courses].
DEUTSCH: You said they were looking for someone with which expertise?
OLDENBURG: With metallurgy, knowledge of metals. There was a study ongoing interested about Russia having a lock on a lot of—strategic materials was the study.
DEUTSCH: That’s so interesting. So, you went to work at OTA but you’re also still a student.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, I had to finish my degree at nights.
DEUTSCH: Where are you living at this point? Have you found Capitol Hill?
OLDENBURG: When I came to DC, I wanted to live on Capitol Hill.
DEUTSCH: How did you know about it?
OLDENBURG: Don’t know. I can’t remember why I was so fixated. I rented a basement apartment, actually around the corner [from her work at OTA, which was at 600 Pennsylvania Avenue SE], on Sixth Street.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, right, exactly. [Mr. Henry’s was around the corner.]
DEUTSCH: So, you lived near Mr. Henry’s?
OLDENBURG: Right, in a basement apartment.
DEUTSCH: But right away you felt like this was the neighborhood for you?
OLDENBURG: Yeah. I don’t know why. I lived there until I moved into this house in ’87. I think I came to DC in ’83.
DEUTSCH: How long did you stay at OTA?
OLDENBURG: Until Mr. Gingrich shut it down in, what, early 90s—no it was after I came back from Paris.
DEUTSCH: Paris, I want to hear about that!
OLDENBURG: It was, what, ’95 I think he shut it down. He came into power in what, ’94, ’95. He was going to trash the government. [Eliminating] OTA was one of the few things he managed to actually accomplish. During my time at OTA, I got, as they call it, a secondment to the UN [United Nations] environment program in Paris for two and a half years.
DEUTSCH: What did you call it, a secondment?
OLDENBURG: It’s an international term. Secondment. It was a temporary assignment to the …
DEUTSCH: You lived in Paris for two years?
DEUTSCH: How was that?
OLDENBURG: That was pretty interesting. I learned a little French.
DEUTSCH: Where did you live?
OLDENBURG: I lived in the 16th Arrondissemont on Rue Jasmin, quinze Rue Jasmin. I could even remember the address. I could walk to the UN office across the river into the …
DEUTSCH: It was on the Left Bank.
OLDENBURG: Yes, it was on the Left Bank.
DEUTSCH: The fifth or something. [UN is in the 7th Arrondissemont]
OLDENBURG: Yeah, right, exactly.
DEUTSCH: That must have been pretty nice.
OLDENBURG: That was nice. It was quite interesting. I learned a little bit of French. The UN operated in English so I did really speak French much except when I went grocery shopping or went to a restaurant.
DEUTSCH: When you went to buy your baguette.
OLDENBURG: I was very good at restaurants, restaurant words. Yeah, exactly but in the market you get baguettes and things. It was a good time.
DEUTSCH: Did you go to the market at Place d’léna down, um, President Wilson [market]…
OLDENBURG: No, there was one close by in [my] neighborhood. I can’t remember its name, but it was; yeah, I did go, yeah there was a market, but I think it was a Saturday market. Can’t remember its name now but that doesn’t sound familiar.
DEUTSCH: Then you came home in time for OTA to shut down.
OLDENBURG: Right, that’s what happened.
DEUTSCH: What happened then?
OLDENBURG: Then I worked in this house as a [consultant] using sort of my connections from the work I had been doing at OTA on environment issues and kept looking for a job. You see, OTA we weren’t, what is the term? I think special exception or something, probably using zoning terms. There’s a term for like—all the lawyers hired in the federal government. They’re not staff so that they get a position and get a holding. So, it makes people, of course, easy to get rid of. I didn’t have any rights within the federal government, none of us did at OTA to get in front of the line for a federal job. It took me four years, five years, and I finally got a job at the Department of Transportation [DOT] because some of the OTA people had already gotten in there, and they pulled me in. I worked there until March ’06 when I retired. That was like 2000 to 2006.
DEUTSCH: What were you doing there?
OLDENBURG: Writing reports, same kind of thing I was doing at OTA researching and writing reports and I was doing their environment work. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, that’s where I worked at DOT. I did their annual report for a couple of years.
DEUTSCH: When did you get involved with local government and how did that happen?
OLDENBURG: That happened—I wasn’t too involved until I retired. The catalyst was the Eastern Market Fair in April ’07.
DEUTSCH: Market Day, was it Market Day?
OLDENBURG: Market Day?
DEUTSCH: You said the Eastern Market Fair.
OLDENBURG: Fire. The fire.
DEUTSCH: Oh, fire. Got you, the fire.
OLDENBURG: [It was] in ’07. Then I was doing volunteering my time. I was writing checks. I was doing all sorts of stuff and thought, “Well, I want to do something more than write checks.” It just so happened, coincidentally, the ANC [Advisory Neighborhood Commission] commissioner for this area moved to North Carolina or something. So, the seat became available. They held a special election to fill it. I was the only candidate, basically. (laughter) So, I won.
DEUTSCH: Did you know anything about—I mean, had you interacted much with city government?
OLDENBURG: The only time I had really interacted, especially with an ANC, was when I remodeled the house in ’04, ’05, and I had to get a zoning relief. That was sort of the one real contact I had with ANC 6B at the time. I’m like many commissioners. They come in never having gone to an ANC meeting until they are running for election. So, no, I didn’t know much. I kept my mouth shut for the first year, basically.
DEUTSCH: You’re still doing it.
OLDENBURG: But not keeping my mouth shut. (laughter)
DEUTSCH: How would you describe your time doing this job? What have the big issues been? What have the big fights been?
OLDENBURG: That’s a very good question. Everything turns over every month kind of thing. You go for one month. You settle things and then next month something pops up and you’re working on that. It’s very little carryover kind of things. Probably the thing that I remember the most was 2010 re-districting. That was a big fight. I remember those angry meetings.
DEUTSCH: What were the issues?
OLDENBURG: It was the boundaries for—after the ward, that’s what we’re going through now. The boundaries for the wards have been set and therefore then you have to re-district all the commission boundaries and the single-member districts [SMD]. That process goes on. It was very heated. [Ward] Six gained territory. I can’t remember what happened to Ward 6 in 2010, but it was quite different from what happened to us here, now, where we lost—I lost part of my SMD in this go-round. That one always sticks out in the main maybe because re-districting is sort of current. There’ll be a fight over or disagreement over some zoning thing. Somebody wants to do something with their house and the neighbors don’t want to do it. So, it’s that sort of thing. I just had one of those a couple of months ago.
DEUTSCH: Is that tree house in your district?
OLDENBURG: No, it’s not. Yeah, that’s the famous one. Yeah, right, no, it’s not in my district and it’s still not settled, I guess. [unintelligible comment].
DEUTSCH: But, that kind of issue.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, those kind. That one was really weird. I mean, unusual for the ANC.
DEUTSCH: How many people do you typically get at an ANC meeting?
OLDENBURG: People only really come to the ANC meetings if they have an issue where we’re going to vote on something that pertains to them, their life. Yeah, that’s basically why people come. Sometimes we have someone presenting something that they want to hear that presentation. Generally, the attendance, after we get through all of the initial votes—all the stuff that comes from committees that we do on consent and whatever—the audience, when we had physical meetings, half of the room would empty out. The same thing virtually now, I’ll look at the number of participants and the number decreases.
DEUTSCH: Where did you have your meetings when you were having in-person meetings?
OLDENBURG: Hill Center.
DEUTSCH: Hill Center. They were there before the Hill Center was the Hill Center, right?
OLDENBURG: The ANC 6B office was in the Hill Center before it was renovated. It was an awful place. Cavernous, rats, cold. It was quite something.
DEUTSCH: I sort of think of the ANC as the bottom rung of democracy.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, that’s who we are. We’re the grass roots supposedly to push stuff up, the [DC] Council ] will handle. We do all of the zoning things and the historic preservation cases and the liquor licenses. Those are the sort of …
DEUTSCH: Those are hot, hotly contested, aren’t they?
OLDENBURG: That’s the sort of, what the bread and butter of the ANC, those issues. They get driven to us. We don’t go out there and say, “We want to deal with this.” We get all of those zoning and historic preservation and ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] cases given to us to handle for the local area, our area. I run the transportation committee. Those issues are ones where I go out and get them. They’re not driven to us.
DEUTSCH: When you say transportation committee, that’s a city-wide committee?
OLDENBURG: No, that’s our ANC transportation committee.
DEUTSCH: Your ANC transportation committee. So, what issues?
OLDENBURG: Again, it’s what is at the moment kind of thing. We deal with—for the last couple of months we’ve hardly had anything really to have a meeting. This month in February I’ve like—I hate to think it—eight items on the agenda. Some of it’s very complicated and require me to write drafts of things. We decided to work on trying to get the Southeast Boulevard project back on track. [It’s been] languishing for about two years.
DEUTSCH: What is Southeast Boulevard?
OLDENBURG: This is good, I’m testifying before the DC Council on it, so I’ve been thinking about what to say. (laughter)
DEUTSCH: Think of this as practice.
OLDENBURG: It’s an area, it’s a triangle. The area where the boulevard would exist is this vast, sort of gully that was created when the freeway, the 695 freeway came in and they destroyed houses along Virginia Avenue [SE]. It’s the part of that from 11th Street [SE] to the [Anacostia] river and then from L Street [SE] down to the river. So, it’s a triangle kind of area. The Southeast Boulevard project, which started in like 2011 I believe …
DEUTSCH: Is this what is sometimes called the Virginia Avenue Park?
OLDENBURG: No. That’s different.
DEUTSCH: Well, we’ll get to that. Someone asked me about that.
OLDENBURG: The Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle project came out of something, a big review that was done years ago called the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. They identified all these things, things that should happen in order to make those spaces, the area in that Anacostia riverfront area more usable and livable for the city, or profitable for the city. The Southeast Boulevard was meant to carry—right now it’s a high-speed freeway, basically, that runs from 11th Street to the Sousa Bridge [Pennsylvania Avenue bridge] through this empty area. It’s only good for vehicles. Only vehicles get to use it. The land that surrounds it is empty. So, the boulevard project, which started out sort of like a freeway, we got it changed, ultimately, to more of an area study so that it would not only have just roads, not freeway, but roads that—sort of like Virginia Avenue or something—but just regular vehicle roads with intersections, would have bike lanes. People could walk through that area and a portion of it which would not be needed for the roadway could be development for affordable housing. Big area on the north side.
DEUTSCH: Is that happening?
OLDENBURG: No. Well, we don’t know. That’s our problem. We worked on it; so I’ve been working on it since 2011. DDOT [District of Columbia Department of Transportation] won’t tell us where they are on the project. I think it’s been mothballed, though we don’t know why. So, it would provide, take this land that is not in use for anything but vehicles that want to get from 11th Street to Sousa Bridge. Actually, they’re doing what the 11th Street Bridge, when it was built back years ago—the 11th Street bridge was supposed to take that traffic and take it around onto [Route] 295. So, by the fact that these roads got added, put in this area after the 11th Street Bridge was done, that sort of …
DEUTSCH: This must connect somehow to the 11th Street Bridge project.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, the roads were there before the 11th Street Bridge project went in. They had to dismantle that roadway when they did the 11th Street Bridge project. Then, unfortunately, although we protested, they put those roads back in. We think because Mr. Gray [Council member Vincent Gray] wanted them, but we don’t know for sure.
DEUTSCH: So, it was political. It got caught up in …
OLDENBURG: Oh yeah, right, exactly. We’re trying to get that because the city’s in need of affordable housing. This is a huge plot. It would have to be turned over from the federal highway [department] to DC, and that takes a long time to do. If you don’t get started, you’ll never have that land for—it could be park if people don’t want people living there, then it could be a big park. It could be anything. It also would connect this portion of Hill East, east of 12th Street, 13th Street, it would put the grid [street grid] back in. It used to be a grid in there. Put the grid back in and create a bypath all the way down through this area to M Street, enable people to walk or bike to get to the Anacostia riverfront, basically, which you can’t do without making a long, circuitous route.
DEUTSCH: What about this Virginia Avenue Park?
OLDENBURG: Virginia Avenue Park is between Ninth and 11th Street, just on the other [south] side of the freeway, 695. That area there has been in my single-member district for 15 years. Now been turned over to Ward 8, but I worked very hard.
DEUTSCH: Now it’s part of Ward 8?
OLDENBURG: Yeah, it will be when [redistricting] goes in. Virginia Avenue Park, it was a place where not too many people lived there in that area. There’s a row of historic houses on Potomac Avenue on the south side of the park. It was a park that is sort of out of the way and not well used, especially before the CSX [railroad] tunnel project. It was a drug haven area. Drug selling and encampments. Of course, encampments are back [nearby] now. That was in those days. It was unusual. I was always having to get police or whomever to get rid of the drug market. Then when the CSX tunnel project came in, they used half of the park; the northern half was where the tunnel runs right under it, the new tunnel. The old tunnel and the new tunnel. It was out of use for a number of years during the tunnel project. Then, after that was finished, CSX had to put back the dog park that had been there. They had to put back what they had destroyed with the tunnel project. They had to add the dog park, a real dog park, they had a pseudo dog park before that. So, that happened. Probably three years ago, I started an organization, Friends of Virginia Avenue Park. We have nonprofit status. We’re trying to oversee the park and promote it and get more use in the park which for 20 years had a community garden on one side.
DEUTSCH: And it doesn’t anymore?
OLDENBURG: No, it’s still there, very viable. They always have a wait list. This year, or last year, the National Community Church donated a kids’ playground to it. It just opened a couple of months ago. It’s an ongoing kind of just oversight role and trying get attention to the park and get it used so it doesn’t become another drug place. It’s very nicely [unintelligible]. I raised, through Charles Allen’s [Ward 6 DC council member] help, I raised $200k for renovating the lower half of the park that hadn’t been affected by CSX. They finished that work about a year ago, a year and a half ago. So, we have a really nice arbor, benches, tables with benches and a vast open area that we’re having trouble getting grass to grow because it’s all construction debris. That reminds me, I have to contact DDOT and find out if they replaced the dead trees this winter.
DEUTSCH: That’s constant, tree work.
OLDENBURG: Yeah. DDOT, Urban Forestry, is now responsible for all the trees in all the DC parks which is really nice because they’re such an efficient organization. I worked directly with them. We had really a problem with one of the homeless people; recently it kept re-occurring and it took just a lot of effort on a lot of, part of a lot of people to finally that issue taken care of.
DEUTSCH: How did it get resolved?
OLDENBURG: This poor person, I don’t know if male or female, who we suspect was living under the overpass on 11th Street, which has an encampment, had—and I can never remember the word, when somebody has a bag that they have to clean out.
DEUTSCH: Oh, a colostomy.
OLDENBURG: Colostomy. They were using the water fountains in the park to clean out their bag and whatever washes, leaving all the leftover behind and we’d have all of these blue bag thingies dribble around. We thought we handled it once and then it didn’t happen, so then we had to get more, had to pull in Charles Allen to clamp down on it. Finally the Department of Health, because it was not only a problem for this person, they needed help, obviously, and the park needed help, but didn’t have …
DEUTSCH: It’s a public health issue.
OLDENBURG: A public health issues for anybody using the park. I won’t—until we get those water fountains definitively disinfected, I would not use any one of them. Now they turned off the water, so that helped that. They found temporary housing for this person; located the person and found temporary housing for that person so that they’re under monitoring now. It was a good solution, but it took probably six months.
DEUTSCH: How hard things like that can be. Have the encampments been something that you’ve been dealing with?
OLDENBURG: It hasn’t been much. There are usually a couple when I walk down there, down along 11th Street. There’s a couple of tents. It’s just an awful mess. I don’t know why it has to be trashy, why there can’t be a big bin there to throw all the trash in. Basically, from that perspective, it doesn’t bother me. I’d rather see those people housed. In the meantime they’ve got to be somewhere.
DEUTSCH: But it’s not an issue that came up in the ANC or something you’ve had to deal with?
OLDENBURG: The one under the Third Street, that’s been a big issue because the Commissioner Samolyk made it a big issue. I left it alone, called for cleanup from time to time.
DEUTSCH: It’s a vexing issue, isn’t it?
OLDENBURG: It is. It really is.
DEUTSCH: I’m sure you’ve seen the area out in front of Union Station.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, right. Yeah, exactly, where do these people go? We got the big vast part of land. Somebody could build affordable housing there. Back to the Southeast Boulevard again. Of course, that won’t happen for years. Still, if you don’t get started it’ll never happen. So, that’s my park that I spent so much time on. I’m very concerned that it’s now in Ward 8.
DEUTSCH: After all that effort.
OLDENBURG: As commissioner I won’t have that sort of additional sort of power, what little power I have to get things done in the park. Our little Friends group is bubbling along. It’s very hard to keep something like that going.
DEUTSCH: Do you run the Friends group?
OLDENBURG: Yeah, with the help of—got a good guy who’s treasurer now.
DEUTSCH: I really think of groups like the Friends group and what you’re doing is kind of like the bedrock of democracy. That is. That’s where it starts. For a lot of people, it starts with their kid’s school.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, exactly.
DEUTSCH: But the school, the park, those—that’s where it all starts. I feel like we’ve had a lot of talk recently about democracy is in danger. But I feel if there are people like you, (laughs) I have confidence.
OLDENBURG: I don’t know. I’m not only up—heavy lift. But, yeah, well, one wonders what’s going to happen. I’m not so [unintelligible].
DEUTSCH: No, I’m not going to quote you on that.
OLDENBURG: No, don’t quote me on that one. Things that I really like the most; in fact, when I became first a commissioner and in the early years of being involved in 6B, we were doing a lot of resolutions on city issues.
DEUTSCH: Like what?
OLDENBURG: Just about anything would come up before the Council that had some impact on Capitol Hill. So, we would get involved with them, at least building resolution, then testifying at Council on things. Because of the turnover in commissioners, most commissioners only last maybe two terms, so four years. We didn’t have that kind of leadership, so we sort of backed off on that for the last couple of years. And then I was chair for two years.
DEUTSCH: Chair of?
OLDENBURG: The Commission [6B]. At that time, just because I was chair, I got involved in a lot of the city issues. Just going to meetings and talking to people and whatever. After that I just sort of backed off and focused on my single member district because it’s the thing I enjoy most doing, working with my constituents and helping them solve problems.
DEUTSCH: You’re like a problem solver.
OLDENBURG: Exactly, it’s absolutely a problem solver. Then the work I do with the transportation committee, all of that work. That’s where I focus now. A lot of commissioners come up with, “Oh we should make a resolution on this, that and the other thing.” If I think it’s well-written and whatever, I’ll go along. But, if I can understand it, otherwise I don’t vote for it.
DEUTSCH: Citywide do you see affordable housing as one of the biggest issues?
OLDENBURG: Yeah, absolutely. Affordable housing. The other one is traffic safety. Safety for, especially pedestrians and bicyclists. You have to get vehicles slowed down. We do it bit by bit. We do it block by block which is how we handle it, which really annoys me. I don’t understand why DDOT can’t. They’ve got all the data. They should get data constantly on say an intersection where there’s a lot of accidents. They should then proactively do something about it. But they wait for us or some citizen to say …
DEUTSCH: Actually, I live at an intersection where—there’s no traffic light at Fifth and East Capitol. Actually, there are quite a few little accidents there.
OLDENBURG: But they’re not going to do anything until the ANC or you and your neighbors submit something to DDOT, a request to DDOT to study it, and then that takes years before they—I can’t tell you how many things I’ve got dangling with DDOT. In fact, I need to make a list.
DEUTSCH: Dangling with DDOT.
OLDENBURG: Dangling with DDOT. (laughter) Where is it? Things we keep saying, “When is this going to happen?” I’ve got this block right over here, D Street, 11th to 12th. Two of the residents over there put a hump request years ago.
DEUTSCH: To slow down traffic.
OLDENBURG: To slow down traffic. It’s still not installed. And it’s one of the easier things DDOT can do. Well, it’s not the easiest because they have to come in and pour some asphalt.
DEUTSCH: But it’s not hideously complicated.
OLDENBURG: No, exactly. It’s not an engineering problem. Whatever, you just figure out where logically it could go and put it in. Things like that, it’s just so frustrating, so frustrating. We don’t know why. Is it lack of staff at DDOT? Is it lack of care at DDOT? I don’t know, but I still think at intersections where there are accidents, DDOT could be proactive. We shouldn’t have to push them into doing something. I have constituents that put in a request for 11th and Penn where are continuing accidents. They live right, almost on the corner.
DEUTSCH: They re-engineered the corner so that; they’ve got those white, those things that they’re putting up now. Those little pylons or whatever …
OLDENBURG: That’s over here at 11th and D. At 11th and Penn, they haven’t done anything. I just got a note from the constituent saying that DDOT said they finished their study, but they’re not going to do anything. Basically, it requires—I don’t even think a camera would work there because it’s a problem of people making left turns at that intersection. So DDOT just threw up their hands and said, “Okay, we’ve studied it.” Didn’t offer any solutions.
DEUTSCH: Did the pandemic, I’m sure, made your meetings go virtual?
OLDENBURG: Absolutely, yes.
DEUTSCH: Anything else?
OLDENBURG: I used to get around my single member district a lot. I don’t have a car, so I walk everywhere. Remember in the early months, so that we were even afraid to pass people on the sidewalk.
DEUTSCH: Right, it was weird.
OLDENBURG: So, you didn’t even want to go out. Then I had these knee problems and mobility was difficult. The pandemic forced me not to get around my SMD so much, finding problems. Just walk around and you can find some. Sidewalks are broken. Litter in a place [unintelligible]. That affected my ability to oversee the SMD. So, I just wait for people to send me information about some problem. The last go-round for running for re-election, I wasn’t really going knocking on doors. I didn’t do that.
DEUTSCH: But you got re-elected anyway.
OLDENBURG: Yes, exactly. I had my signs. That affected at least my ability to oversee the single-member-district. The meetings, being virtual, we were very awkward initially, but we sort of got it down now. I, frankly, prefer virtual meetings. I think our monthly meeting should be physical, if possible. If it’s harder for people to interact, the audience interact. But, at the committee meetings we have specific issues we’re talking about. Any who wants to participate in that particular thing can do so. It also means I don’t have to go to the Hill Center and walk home at eleven o’clock at night. From a safety perspective, although, I’ll do it.
DEUTSCH: Zoom is actually quite effective for some kinds of things. And the fact that you don’t have to go out. I would think for some things you’d get a better turnout of people.
OLDENBURG: I think, absolutely you can, right, again, depending on what’s on it. Yes, but we have these people now that bug the heck out of me. The ‘chat’ function. There’s all this chitter chatter going—it’s like there’s two meetings. You’ve got the one in front of you that you’re trying to focus on, and then there’s all this ‘chat’ stuff.
DEUTSCH: Yeah, oh gosh, yes.
OLDENBURG: It’s just like, if I ruled the world, no ‘Chats’. You want to ask a question, raise your hand and ask a question. I can’t—the other night at a meeting; oh, it was one of those liquor licenses that I’m sure you’ve heard about, the As You Are bar. There’s this function on, but we use Webex, but the same as Zoom. There’s this function where people can select these little, like the hand-raising thing.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, but there’s these other ones that wave and move and whatever, and there was like down this side of the screen was all this flitter flatter going on. And the ‘chat’ was popping up. This is a very important meeting. So, I finally—I had this piece of cardboard, and I just stuck it on the screen, against the screen so I couldn’t see the fluttering stuff. (laughter) So, I would love to eliminate that ‘Comments’. If you have a physical meeting, people are not jumping up all the time and waving their hands and doing something silly.
DEUTSCH: It’s too easy. It’s too easy in a way.
OLDENBURG: Yeah. Sometimes I think people come to these meetings, sort of like the Internet, they come to the meeting just to play around with the meeting. They don’t come seriously.
DEUTSCH: Are there any issues that you’re dealing with that we haven’t covered?
OLDENBURG: No, we just got through the As You Are [bar], and that took a lot of effort and energy on a lot of people’s part and we compromised. Everybody compromised. We came out …
DEUTSCH: The main issue being noise?
OLDENBURG: Yeah. The main issue for the immediate neighborhood was the noise that the place would produce both in people’s voices and the music because of the dance venue. Then for the community that wants to use the place, it was about having a place of their own. A big thing. Those were the two issues. There was like pushing on one side to have this place because we don’t have a place like this, so, that community. Then the immediate neighbors just being so worried that they’re going to be disrupted by it.
DEUTSCH: Which they probably will.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see. I decided finally at the end, because people kept saying, “Oh the owners are such nice people,” well, let’s see how nice they are. See how responsive they are.
DEUTSCH: You have no plans to retire, I guess.
OLDENBURG: Nope, but put this down, but yes, I’m not running again. So, I’m finished.
DEUTSCH: You’re not?
OLDENBURG: Yeah, it’s time to do something else. (laughs) I was just reading about some organization that does something. Here there’s so many things go on in DC. I thought, “Well I could spend some time on that.”
DEUTSCH: But you don’t want me to put that in the article.
OLDENBURG: No, because I haven’t publicly announced it.
DEUTSCH: People will freak out.
OLDENBURG: Yeah. A lot of people who I‘ve told, they say, “Oh, but what will be do without you, Kirsten?” “Oh, I don’t know, I guess you’ll figure it out. I’ll always be here.”
DEUTSCH: A change of leadership can be a good thing.
DEUTSCH: Fresh energy and different ideas and …
OLDENBURG: Right. Right.
DEUTSCH: I’m sure it’ll be a loss, but it’s not the end of the world.
OLDENBURG: No, it’s not. Commissioners change all the time. I just stuck around too long. It’s really time for me to do something else. I want to travel.
DEUTSCH: Where do you want to go?
OLDENBURG: Of course, pre-pandemic, every year I’d go to London. Every other year to Copenhagen because I have family there. My father was Danish.
DEUTSCH: I was going to ask. Your name is so, Kirsten is so …
OLDENBURG: I go there probably every two years. I go back to Paris every once in a while, because I have a really good friend that I knew for …
DEUTSCH: Obviously you haven’t done that for …
OLDENBURG: No, haven’t done that for two years or whatever. I don’t even know if I know how to travel. (laughter) It used to be so routine. I knew I could pack and everything. I would like to travel again. I’ve got some travel monies sitting around, waiting to be used.
DEUTSCH: This won’t last forever.
OLDENBURG: I can do that or get engaged otherwise. This friend of mine who is—well, they live in Normandy now. They have a house in Normandy.
DEUTSCH: How lovely.
OLDENBURG: Right on the Seine. We’ve talked about—we were talking the other day and it was like, we keep talking about meeting up in London. “When are we ever going to be able to meet up in London again?” Then I said, “Yeah, it’s sort of like to me, it’s like another neighborhood because I go there so often and I stay in the same hotel so I know the immediate neighborhood and things. So, it’s that very comfortable kind of …”
DEUTSCH: What neighborhood is it?
OLDENBURG: It’s around Russell Square.
DEUTSCH: That’s your [unintelligible] London neighborhood
OLDENBURG: That’s my London neighborhood and I miss it. So, hopefully, get an opportunity.
DEUTSCH: I see, I get it. [looking at Christmas ornaments]
OLDENBURG: That’s my …
DEUTSCH: Your little London …
OLDENBURG: My little London, yeah, ornaments. I’m still not quite de-Christmased, but working at it.
DEUTSCH: Do you have family in Copenhagen?
OLDENBURG: I have cousins. Everybody from my father’s generation, all the aunts and uncles, they’ve all died. Some of my cousins have died. A few left, but not many [unintelligible] I like Copenhagen too. I like roaming around Copenhagen.
DEUTSCH: Do you speak Danish at all?
OLDENBURG: I tried once to learn. I really worked at it. One trip I went to Copenhagen and would go into shops and I—they assumed I spoke because I have sort of the features of a Dane, right. Salespeople would talk to me in Danish, and I’d try to go along with it, but by the third sentence or the third return, I’d be lost. I’d have to switch to English embarrassingly. No, I’ve tried, but you know you can’t speak Danish anywhere but in Denmark, so.
DEUTSCH: Right. It’s not a world language.
OLDENBURG: Definitely not. My French, I could have kept that up when I came back from Paris, but I didn’t. Spanish, I have from living—Caracas, that Venezuela period of my life.
DEUTSCH: How old were you in Venezuela?
OLDENBURG: I was not, I was sort of like junior high. Just verging on junior high.
DEUTSCH: So, you learned Spanish?
OLDENBURG: I was fluent in Spanish. So fluent in Spanish that when I go into a Spanish country, it just starts flooding back. It was a problem in France because my brain would say, “She wants to speak a foreign language.” And Spanish would come out.
DEUTSCH: You’d pull up the right file but the wrong envelope in it.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, exactly. Spanish comes back so easily.
DEUTSCH: Lots of opportunity in the U.S. to use Spanish.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, but I don’t take advantage of it too much. That’s something I could do when I retire from the ANC. I could go take Spanish lessons.
DEUTSCH: You could go to the Hill Center.
OLDENBURG: Exactly, yes, exactly. So close.
DEUTSCH: Anything else I should know about?
OLDENBURG: That’s pretty much my whole life. (laughter)
DEUTSCH: Very interesting.
OLDENBURG: It’s a lot of chunks. I keep thinking, it’s funny, I have four phases of my, especially my career, my adulthood. It’s been fine.
DEUTSCH: Anything about Capitol Hill?
OLDENBURG: I love Capitol Hill! I really love Capitol Hill. It’s just such a wonderful neighborhood!
DEUTSCH: What in particular?
OLDENBURG: The look of the place. I get very annoyed when some historic, less historic kind of look, sort of invades the Hill, like all the streeteries now. They’re all very ugly and nonhistoric looking.
DEUTSCH: The streeteries?
OLDENBURG: Streeteries, you know, all the advancement of the restaurants into the street.
DEUTSCH: Little outdoor…
OLDENBURG: All these wooden structures, ugly sort of things. They’re not the historic looking at all. On Barracks Row you hardly even know it’s historic neighborhood. That really annoys me. That kind of thing, that invasion. I’m very wedded to the historic look of the Hill.
DEUTSCH: It is lovely.
OLDENBURG: Going for a latte every day to Peregrine, that’s my …
DEUTSCH: I love Peregrine too!
OLDENBURG: Well, I think we’ve seen about it…
DEUTSCH: I’ve seen you.
OLDENBURG: The other day, well I used to run into Stephanie sitting in Peregrine from time to time, and we just passed the time of day.
DEUTSCH: Now you can’t sit there.
OLDENBURG: I sit outside anyway. I’ve figured out if it’s—even if it’s below freezing, if the sun is shining and it’s not windy, it’s really quite endurable.
DEUTSCH: And you don’t do it for three hours.
DEUTSCH: That’s doable.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, right.
DEUTSCH: I love Peregrine. Their coffee is by far the best.
OLDENBURG: Yeah, right, yes, yes. My only substitute is Blue Bottle in Union Station.
DEUTSCH: Okay, I haven’t been there.
OLDENBURG: They make a decent latte too. It’s not the same as Peregrine.
DEUTSCH: Okay, well.
OLDENBURG: Think you got it?
DEUTSCH: I think we got it.
END OF INTERVIEW