Walter Tejada, the new Arlington County Board Chair for 2013, says he will use his chairmanship to push for progress in four local policy areas: affordable housing, fitness and health, urban agriculture, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Tejada and other County Board members outlined their vision for the county at the Board’s traditional New Year’s Day meeting on Tuesday. As Chair, Tejada’s priorities will receive the sharpest focus.
In a seven-page speech, Tejada repeatedly called on the county to “move forward together… for all of Arlington.”
Tejada’s first major policy initiative is affordable housing. Tejada repeated a call he and Board member Chris Zimmerman previously made: for new affordable housing investment funded via adoption of Tax Increment Financing for Columbia Pike. The TIF would steer a percentage of taxes gained through increases in property values along Columbia Pike to the creation of new affordable housing, to bolster the county’s existing 6,585 committed affordable units.
“Already on Columbia Pike, market forces are threatening one of the County’s largest supplies of market-rate affordable housing,” Tejada said. “I have asked [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] to analyze and submit a recommendation by June 2013 for creating a transit oriented affordable housing fund on Columbia Pike through adoption of a TIF.”
“We need to house our healthcare workers and teacher aides, our cashiers and restaurant workers, our cleaning staff and small business employees, and other hard-working people so vital to our County’s economic health,” he continued. “We need to maintain the cultural and economic diversity that is so vital to Arlington’s soul, for all of Arlington.”
Tejada acknowledged that more affordable housing will not come cheap, but quoted former president John F. Kennedy in saying, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”
An affordable housing TIF on the Pike wouldn’t be the county’s first use of the funding vehicle. A TIF is in place to fund infrastructure improvements in Crystal City, including a planned Crystal City streetcar.
After affordable housing, Tejada called for the county to “promote healthy living” through an initiative called FitArlington.
The new focus on fitness and health will include the creation of a “Arlington Healthy Community Action Team” (HCAT) comprised of local health and fitness providers, youth services providers, nutrition educators and urban agriculture enthusiasts. In addition to promoting physical fitness in general, the county will work in partnership with the HCAT and Arlington Public Schools to help reduce the rate of childhood obesity in Arlington.
The childhood obesity initiative will kick off with a community meeting from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford Street).
Tejada also highlighted the work of the county’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, which was announced as an initiative at the 2012 New Year’s Day meeting. Among the issues being considered by the task force is the controversial proposal to allow Arlington residents to raise egg-laying hens in their backyards. Tejada said he expects the task force’s forthcoming recommendations to help promote healthy eating in Arlington.
“Sometime this spring, we expect the task force to bring its recommendations to the County Board,” he said. “I look forward to receiving those recommendations and helping lead the way on urban agriculture.”
Tejada said he will continue to “actively promote” the county’s “PAL” safety campaign, which encourages drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to be more courteous and conscientious on roads, trails and sidewalks.
“As part of the campaign, we will create more bike lanes, add more bicycle and pedestrian way-finding signs; make safety improvements and break ground this year on another section of the Washington Boulevard Trail,” Tejada said. “You will also see coordinated activities across the County, a number of events throughout the year, coordinated activities across the region and expanded outreach to the immigrant community.”
In addition to his four major policy priorities, Tejada extended his “for all of Arlington” philosophy to a new series of neighborhood town hall meetings – 10 in all in 2013. The meetings will be held in “every corner of Arlington to listen to folks’ concerns and ideas.” The first will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at the Drew Community Center (3500 23rd Street S.)
Tejada wrapped up his speech by recounting his experience as an immigrant.
“My Moving Forward Together agenda is an ambitious one,” he said. “It is rooted in my experience as an immigrant who moved to this county over 20 years ago and took an unlikely path to community and political involvement. Who would have thought that the young boy who helped his struggling family by shining shoes in the central market in San Salvador, El Salvador, would become the Chairman — twice — in one of the best communities in the world?”
“Our Arlington values of inclusion and diversity, for healthy living, for sustainability, and fiscal responsibility, will again guide us to continue being the community where — no matter what background — each person is indeed important,” he concluded.
While the New Year’s Day meeting has been a largely harmonious affair, featuring grand plans and optimistic predictions, the newest County Board member used her speech to further highlight a point of discord with her colleagues.
Libby Garvey said the planned Columbia Pike streetcar would be a waste of nearly $300 million. Garvey repeated her push for a far less expensive Bus Rapid Transit system along Columbia Pike, despite the rest of the Board’s repeated votes for the streetcar and the fact that dedicated bus lanes — a hallmark of BRT systems — seem unlikely on the Pike.
“Money that businesses or taxpayers must pay for a streetcar is money that is not there for affordable housing, education, infrastructure, the arts… everything else we want to do,” she said.
Garvey said that implementation of BRT would be less disruptive than construction of a streetcar system.
“Right now the plan is to lay tracks along the Pike and put up above ground wire where we just, at great expense, put the wires underground,” Garvey said. “This construction will be disruptive and make it difficult for customers to get to local businesses, some of which are struggling already. I fear many of these small and diverse businesses will be forced to close and never come back.”
Garvey called for “a robust and informed conversation about the streetcar and possible alternatives” before continuing with the project.
Other priorities outlined by County Board members include a “personal crusade to reduce the use of plastic water bottles” (Jay Fisette), a continuation of the one-on-one drop-in meetings with County Board members known as Open Door Mondays (Mary Hynes), and a continued “unshakeable commitment to progressive moral values” (Chris Zimmerman).
Fisette was elected Vice-Chair of the Arlington County Board for 2013.