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by Peter Rousselot — March 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a recent column about the Arlington County Board’s TJ Elementary decision, I focused on three of the critical lessons learned for Arlington Public Schools:

  1. APS can’t choose the best option unless it knows what all the options are
  2. APS must be completely transparent in discussing all options
  3. Developers must be part of the solution

How do these lessons and other factors specifically impact the capacity crisis at Oakridge Elementary?

Oakridge parents have launched an online petition seeking capacity crisis relief from the School Board by September 2016. The parents’ petition points out that:

By the start of the 2015 school year, Oakridge Elementary School is projected to be the county’s largest elementary school with almost 800 students. It is projected to be at 117 percent capacity with seven incoming kindergarten classes. The anticipated rate of growth for Oakridge far exceeds every other elementary school in the county.

Because the capacity crisis at Oakridge is so severe, and because the County Board’s TJ decision has set back the general timeline for capacity crisis relief, the county should not wait until after the conclusion of the Community Facilities Study (CFS) before taking any action regarding Oakridge. Among the specific actions that the County Board ought to take before the conclusion of the CFS are these:

  • In consultation with the School Board, commit to granting some APS students access to appropriate county facilities on an interim basis until a final plan can be implemented for overcrowding at Oakridge. Based on a March 12 letter from Mary Hynes to James Lander, some movement in this direction might give Oakridge some relief by September 2015.
  • Insist that developers of projects that will generate new enrollment at Oakridge provide their fair share of financial support to alleviate overcrowding at Oakridge. Vornado has a long history of developing projects within the current boundaries of Oakridge Elementary. In a very real sense, Oakridge is Vornado’s neighborhood school. Vornado does and should have a vested interest in Oakridge’s success. (As I wrote in my earlier TJ decision column, if the county attorney believes Arlington currently lacks authority under state law to require Vornado to provide such financial assistance, the County Board now should direct the Attorney to publish his legal reasoning in detail.)
  • Commit in principle to increase APS’ share of the county-wide debt ceiling limit (the 10 percent rule) to speed up APS’ ability to build new schools, additions, or any renovations that are so substantial that they are appropriate for debt financing.

Conclusion

Both Boards must work together on this issue to ensure Oakridge remains a successful neighborhood school.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Garrett McGuire — March 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Garrett McGuireArlington residents are focused on key community priorities — school capacity and instructional needs, housing affordability, Metro upgrades, community facilities, open space, and other areas that depend upon public funding.

However, as a recent Washington Post article highlighted, we face another threat to our community that has received less attention: a high (and rising) commercial vacancy rate. The recently launched Community Facilities Study Group was briefed last month on the current state of Arlington’s economy and the picture is sobering.

With one-quarter of the county’s 40 million square feet of office space vacant, Arlington is faced with reduced commercial property taxes at a time when the demand for county services continues to rise.

Our ability to fund county services at existing or enhanced levels requires a healthy local economy.

Arlington is the envy of many area localities because we have a balanced 50-50 tax split between commercial real estate and homeowner property taxes. However, rising commercial vacancy rates will slow commercial real estate tax receipts and homeowners could either pay more to cover the lost revenue — or services will have to be reduced.

Those are our real options. Even if the county and school budgets were scoured for every inefficiency, potential staff reduction, or unnecessary project or program, we would still face either increased residential taxes or service reductions if Arlington is not able to attract more commercial and government tenants.

Additionally, with school spending already a significant portion of Arlington’s budget, and school enrollment growing at nearly 5 percent a year, funding for schools could be in jeopardy at a critically important time if we are not competitive for major tenants with the District, Tysons, Alexandria, and outer suburbs.

Any County Board candidate (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green, Reform, Bull Moose etc…) should have a strong economic development plan. Without a thriving business community that provides jobs, pays wages and drives county revenue, we will not be able to solve and fund our core priorities, and promote our core values.

The Arlington Economic Development (AED) team, under new leadership, is becoming more aggressive about marketing our community’s assets. This month, AED attended SXSW in Austin, Texas, to pitch companies on Arlington. We need our local government — and our elected officials — to continue developing innovative marketing techniques and have a clear understanding of what resources are needed to attract and keep major tenants.

Because Arlington’s success has relied upon federal government spending, we need a new push toward a more diversified local economy.

In addition to supporting the growth of local startups, we must focus on companies that are diverse in scope and can withstand reduced government spending — like Marriott, which happens to be looking for a new Metro-accessible office location.

We have a governor who is focused on, and has thrived during, his first year attracting businesses to every region of the Commonwealth. His energy and enthusiasm can be an added tool to recruiting world-class employers to fill Arlington’s empty office buildings. Just last week, the governor announced nearly 600 new jobs in Fairfax County with the expansion of Navy Federal Credit Union’s offices.

(more…)

by Mark Kelly — March 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyA few years back I went to the Arlington County tax rate hearing to listen to the comments of my fellow citizens. So few showed up to comment on the rate that the Arlington County Board actually took a recess while it waited to see if anyone else would come to speak.

If memory serves, all but one of the handful who did come asked the Board not to raise the rate.

Some would argue this shows most Arlingtonians like the level of taxes they pay and are always willing to pay more. Many more of us would argue that in the years immediately pre-Vihstadt, we had given up hope the Board would do anything but raise our annual out-of-pocket costs.

Last month, the Board voted unanimously to advertise a higher rate. If you do not show up tonight and ask for the Board to reject its advertised rate, they may just feel like you are OK with paying even more.

We need to get to the bottom of it

A deaf man with limited English proficiency was held for six weeks in the Arlington County jail last year for allegedly stealing an iPad. He eventually entered into a plea deal for time served.

He claims he was denied access to a proper interpreter, was not aware of why he was arrested for 24 hours, was given medical care without his consent, and frequently missed meals because the system in place at the jail requires inmates to hear. The Sheriff’s Department is not commenting on the specifics of the claims, but does note that services for the hearing impaired are offered.

It is safe to say that it is too early to assign any guilt or blame based on what we know so far. But, these allegations are serious and deserve a thorough review by county officials.

What will this survey really tell us?

Arlington announced it will be conducting another survey to assess the satisfaction with government services. The 2012 Survey claimed that 89 percent of residents were generally satisfied with the services provided. Of course, the 2014 elections spoke very differently.

Digging into the 2012 results, you can find more specific data. What policy makers should note are the areas where residents think they are doing a less than satisfactory job. In 2012, it was roads and traffic.

Forty-eight percent of Arlingtonians who took the survey did not rate the maintenance of county streets as satisfactory or very satisfactory. Fifty percent said they were less than satisfied with traffic management. By comparison, the next worst scoring area was code enforcement at 32 percent who were not satisfied.

It will be interesting in 2015 to see if the county learned anything from the last survey and improved specific areas local residents believed to be lacking.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — March 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm 1,026 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyFor years, Republicans in Arlington have spoken out against wasteful spending projects and the need for more transparency and accountability from our local government. Things have taken a turn for the better in the past year.

Tax rates were lowered — albeit just a little. The aquatics center was put on hold. The trolley projected ended — it looks like other communities are rethinking their plans as well. And, soon subsidies for the ill-conceived Artisphere are slated come to an end as well.

This week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe cleared the way for the county to hire an independent auditor to take a deeper look at our spending. With any excuse removed that Arlington lacked the authority to make this change, the Arlington County Board should move to establish this office immediately. Doing so would mark a great end to a year of positive change.

Recently, outgoing Board Member Walter Tejada made a rather tone-deaf speech to Arlington Democrats with his insights on how Arlington is faring. It is safe to assume his call for “progressive and Democratic values” was targeted to the base in his own party. But, after voters rejected the path Arlington’s elected officials were taking us, such a speech demonstrates why it was time for a change in leadership.

It also harkens back to one of his former colleagues, Chris Zimmerman. Zimmerman was famous for making speeches about Arlington’s success being dependent on “progressive” values. The speeches always deride Republicans as those who are simply opposed to any government.

Mr. Tejada intimated that we are allowing “. . . ourselves to become a new Arlington of rich, entitled people, lacking in compassion, empathy and a sense of community, viscerally opposed to government of any kind, opposed to everything in alleged overspending on every front?”

This line of thinking shows a complete lack of understanding of the overwhelming majority of Republicans. Republicans believe government decisions are best made closest to the voters. Local governments, we believe, have a tremendous role to play in our everyday lives. Schools, roads, safety, and infrastructure decisions are best made closest to home.

Sure, Republicans are also the party that puts a strong emphasis on making these decisions in a fiscally responsible manner. We oppose waste. We think taxes should remain as low as possible to meet our needs.

What Arlington Democrats discovered last fall is that a growing number of Arlingtonians agree with Republicans on how our local government is spending our money. Mr. Tejada may not like it, but if he really was that passionate about his positions, maybe he would be running again instead of retiring.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — March 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm 941 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotArlington needs a fresh start. It now has a great opportunity to make one.

Arlington’s current County Manager, Barbara Donnellan, is resigning effective June 30. Thereafter, current Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz will serve as the interim county manager until the Arlington County Board chooses a permanent manager.

BACKGROUND

Arlington is the only locality in Virginia authorized to have a “County Manager Plan” form of government. No change in Arlington’s current form of government is feasible within the time horizon in which Arlington must select Donnellan’s permanent successor.

The duties of the Manager are “administrative and executive” in nature. The County Board, NOT the County Manager, sets public policy direction.

MAKING OUR CHOICE

Candidates for Arlington’s new manager will possess a wide variety of administrative and executive skills, personal qualities, and other attributes. The key principles that should guide our final choice are discussed below.

Use a transparent process to solicit Arlington citizen input

To help us make a fresh start, the County Board should establish a transparent process to solicit broad-based citizen input regarding the key skills, qualities and attributes that Arlington’s next manager ought to have.

The Board may think it’s good at doing this. Recent history, including last year’s “Public Land for Public Good” fiasco, proves the contrary. To solicit citizen input, the Board should look to the best practices of other localities. For example, the Board ought to consult the menu of Communication and Citizen Participation Techniques offered by the state of Washington.

Appoint an independent auditor reporting directly to the County Board

The Board should start planning now to appoint an independent auditor reporting directly to the County Board. Arlington citizens should be invited to suggest priority areas of inquiry for the new independent auditor. If properly managed, the results of the initial independent audits can help the Board in its choice of a new manager by highlighting areas most in need of improvement.

Conduct a nationwide search

The Board has announced that it plans to conduct a nationwide search for Donnellan’s permanent replacement. That is the right way to proceed. The new manager should not be a current Arlington County employee. This is another way to ensure a fresh look at the challenges facing Arlington.

If the best candidate to succeed Donnellan lives outside the D.C. metro area, that candidate should be required to move to Arlington as a condition of the job. If the best candidate lives within the D.C. metro area, that candidate should be strongly encouraged, but not required, to move to Arlington.

Defer final vote on new Manager until 2016

There are lots of things that should be done starting now to choose a permanent replacement for Donnellan. However, the final County Board vote to approve that choice should be deferred until after the two new Board members take office on January 1, 2016. This is another way to ensure the fresh start we need.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Kip Malinosky — March 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,050 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Kip MalinoskyArlington is now in a time of transition in its elected leadership. It happens about once a generation and we are living through such a time today.

We have elected and will again this year elect new members of the County and School Boards. We have elected new leaders at the federal and state level as well.

Undoubtedly, we all hope that our new elected officials will find ways to build on Arlington’s remarkable successes over recent decades.

Those successes were built on a broad consensus developed in the late 1970s that we should invest in and redevelop Metro corridors, protect single family neighborhoods and open space, generate substantial commercial revenues as a complement to residential property taxes, and provide for excellent schools, county services, and a social safety net.

The achievements of that progressive consensus should not be taken for granted:

  • Consistent unemployment rates among the lowest in Virginia
  • One of the best school systems in the country
  • A low crime rate through community policing
  • Low costs of capital through consistently-held Triple-Triple A bond ratings
  • A robust and award-winning affordable housing program
  • A range of heavily-used county programs and facilities
  • Pioneering efforts on diversity, inclusion and equality

While people continue to move to Arlington in response to these achievements, we see that the long-held and broad-based community consensus is showing signs of fraying. Many Arlingtonians are facing economic challenges that feel more substantial than in prior years. There is less optimism and a lower level of trust in government and other institutions. And newcomers to Arlington have yet to get engaged in either Arlington’s civic or political life.

Arlington Democrats are committed to electing a new generation of Democratic elected officials and more generally to working with fellow Arlingtonians — from different parties and independents — to improve our county.

As for our changing elected leadership, last year six elected offices turned over. This year, there are open seats for County Board (two), School Board, and the 45th House of Delegates District. So far, there are five candidates for the Democratic nomination for the two County Board seats and two candidates seeking a Democratic endorsement for the School Board seat.

These candidates will bring new ideas and approaches to county governance. Arlington Democrats are committed to ensuring a fair process and an open series of debates. To help maximize participation, we unanimously approved a June 9 primary for all local offices where we had the ability to do so. Our caucus to determine the Democratic School Board endorsement will be held May 14 at Drew Model School and May 16 at Washington-Lee High School.

We also want to help forge a new community consensus. Our County Board and School Board members have jointly embraced a new facilities planning conversation to address our needs on a county-wide basis that will help find community consensus with regard to siting of parks/open space as well as schools, housing, public safety, and transportation facilities. (more…)

by Michelle Woods — March 12, 2015 at 1:30 pm 830 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Michelle WoodsMarch 8 marked the observance of International Women’s Day and provided an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made with regard to equal opportunities that help women and families get ahead.

While we have farther to go in promoting those goals, we are fortunate that we have, in Arlington, the momentum, resources, and leadership to continue making progress.

For example, we are fortunate to have members of the Arlington Commission on the Status of Women who are working to improve the lives of local women and families. The Commission has generated reports to promote options for affordable childcare, increased access to affordable housing, and more readily available information to help prevent and assist victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

One place where we are in need of greater progress is in the General Assembly. Currently, only 13 percent of the members of the General Assembly are Democratic women. How to increase that number was a topic of much conversation at the annual Virginia Democratic Women’s Caucus breakfast held March 7 in Richmond.

Among the attendees in the room were Democratic women running for office this year as well as women and men ready to lend their support and help build the infrastructure needed to win key electoral seats across the Commonwealth.

One organization building that infrastructure is Emerge Virginia — a program working to empower and train smart, strong women on how to run for office and develop important leadership skills.

The program has already produced a group of women who are running for General Assembly seats this year, including Jennifer Boysko (86th District delegate) and Susan Hippen (21st District delegate). Other candidates in attendance running for office this year were Emily Francis (10th District senator), Traci Dippert (17th District senator), Shelly Simonds (94th District delegate), and Kandy Hilliard (28th District delegate).

As someone who’s worked on statewide campaigns in Virginia in 2008, 2012 and 2013, I feel confident that voters in Virginia understand the importance of electing more Democratic women who they know will fight for their day-to-day issues such as universal access to pre-K education, equal pay for equal work, paid sick leave, and Medicaid expansion.

Fortunately, women we have elected to the General Assembly have been important to successful efforts to enact legislation in the 2015 session that protects and empowers women and families.

These efforts include passage of a bill to combat human trafficking that will result in stronger penalties for perpetrators and increased protections for child victims. Human trafficking is currently the second-fastest growing crime in the country, calculated to be the largest underground crime by 2050 if we don’t work harder now.

Additionally, mothers will now have the freedom to breastfeed in public. Previously, breast feeding was permitted only on property owned, leased or controlled by the Commonwealth, as well as inside private homes. (more…)

by Mark Kelly — March 12, 2015 at 12:45 pm 659 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyLast week, Sweet Briar College, located about 12 miles north of Lynchburg, made national news. It was not for academic or athletic success, but for announcing it would close its doors after 114 years.

The private, liberal arts women’s college with 760 students continued to see declining enrollment and annual operating losses. The tuition and fees alone were nearly $35,000 annually, but according to reports, that rate was being discounted nearly 60 percent on average. Even with the heavily discounted rates, Sweet Briar could not attract enough new students to fill the gap. The school was increasingly relying on an endowment where a majority of the funds were restricted to specific uses.

Sweet Briar College may be an outlier, but the evidence suggests it is the symptom of something much bigger. Sweet Briar is not alone among small private colleges in feeling economic pressures. According to this Washington Post story, the average tuition discount is 4 percent and enrollment is down at “half of small private colleges and regional public colleges.”

The average total annual cost for private four year colleges is $42,419. Twenty years ago, that number was $26,487. And, while public universities are still more affordable, their tuition costs are rising at faster rates over the past 20 years than their private counterparts.

At the same time, median family incomes that are simply not keeping up with rising college costs. So, as parents and students look at costs that could potentially reach $70,000 per year — see Georgetown in D.C. – they have to ask themselves if it is really worth it. Forty million Americans have student loan debt. Total student loan debt is $1.2 trillion, an all-time high.

The question for lawmakers in Richmond is, will Sweet Briar’s closure inspire them to take a fresh look at the future of higher education here in the Commonwealth?

Virginia already has guaranteed admission agreements. This helps students keep total four-year costs down by allowing them to complete their first two years at community college. But, is there an increased role for community colleges?

Can we encourage public-private partnerships in Virginia where more degree programs are created to fulfill industry needs? Along these lines, should Richmond lobby Washington to break up the current accreditation system? Shouldn’t we consider allowing each state to establish its own, giving Virginia more flexibility to create innovative education solutions.

Are there other good ideas out there that simply do not rely on increasing student loans or a federal mandate requiring taxpayers to pay for two years of community college, or worse: requiring us to bail out the growing mountain of student loan debt?

A college education is still the key to better job opportunities. But, parents and students should not feel trapped by the current higher education system that is piling up debt on future generations.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — March 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm 898 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs ARLnow.com reported last week, a group of parents has petitioned Arlington Public Schools to inaugurate a new French immersion elementary school. Their motives are good, but their timing is not.

It’s been 15 years since I chaired what is now known as the World Languages Advisory Committee to APS. As chair, I was one of many civic activists who pressed APS to introduce Foreign Language in Elementary School (FLES) programs.

At that time, APS had no FLES programs and was actively resisting their introduction. Through the persistent efforts of that committee, combined with effective advocacy by hundreds of parents, APS finally began to roll out FLES.

Introduction of FLES was slowed during the Great Recession. Largely due to the outstanding energy and efforts of a new parent advocacy group, FLES for All, the introduction of FLES has resumed. But, some elementary schools still lack it:

Only 17 out of 22 Arlington elementary schools have foreign language education — leaving over 2,000 students without foreign language instruction until 7th grade.  ATS, Arlington Science Focus, Taylor and Long Branch are remaining to receive FLES and a full week of instruction. (Hoffman-Boston has [a] full week of instruction but no FLES, Abingdon has early language instruction but not K-5 FLES)

APS superintendent Patrick Murphy has stated that unless APS receives sufficient additional FY 2016 funding from the county, APS will not be able to complete the FLES rollout because APS will have to defer the elimination of early release Wednesday (ERW) at the elementary schools that still lack FLES.

APS consistently has taken the position that there “isn’t room in the school day” for FLES programs at ERW elementary schools. Most Arlington citizens without children are surprised and angry to learn that school ends at 1:21 p.m. every Wednesday at those elementary schools that still retain ERW.

Given the tight budget constraints facing APS and the County, APS should assign priority to the completion of the rollout of FLES at the elementary schools that still lack FLES. This rollout should be completed before APS begins to offer more immersion programs. After the FLES rollout is complete, APS should design a transparent process to consider additional immersion programs. (There currently are two Spanish immersion elementary programs offered at Claremont and Key.)

As we move forward, APS needs to treat World Languages as a core subject, and incorporate more language opportunities throughout the week to ensure maximum benefits. APS should try to increase the number of different languages it currently offers.

It’s taken 15 years to introduce FLES in 17 Arlington elementary schools. The rollout of FLES is almost complete. Let’s finish the job.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — March 5, 2015 at 2:00 pm 635 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyStories abound about the results of the new federal school nutrition standards. Since their implementation, usage of the program is down, food waste is up, and many students simply go home hungry at the end of the day.

It is not that the health of our children is not an important concern. But, the point of the school lunch program at its inception was to feed kids who do not have enough to eat at home.

The larger argument about the wisdom or practicality of these standards is for another time and forum. One issue surrounding them did rise to the surface again recently. Can kids have “bake sales” during school hours to raise money for their various causes?

Yes, the new school nutrition standards have rules about bake sales. Cookies, brownies, donuts and pizza do not meet the standards. Therefore, they are prohibited from being sold at school.

There is an exception. Each state may allow them, but they have to set rules for doing so. Otherwise, students would be left to sell whole grain, sugar-free, and taste-free muffins to raise money for band uniforms and field trips.

For some reason, Virginia’s State Board of Education had not set forward any rules. So, it led to a debate in the Virginia General Assembly on a bill to determine how many each school could have in a given year.

Maybe in Arlington where the median income is over $100,000, most of us are simply OK with writing a check to cover the extras the school budget does not. But, not every school district is so lucky. And, banning the bake sale takes away the opportunity for kids to learn lessons about working for money in order get things they want or need or to be able to donate that money to a charitable cause.

One Republican Senator said her kids gravitated toward unhealthy foods and therefore she would not support any exceptions for fundraisers. Of course her kids do. Unhealthy food tastes good. Many of us like a good slice of pizza, a Saturday morning donut, or a good bowl of ice cream.

But as a parent, it is our responsibility to teach our kids to eat right. The purchase of a giant chocolate chip cookie at school one afternoon will not dramatically alter a child’s eating habits. Neither will prohibiting it.

The bill to allow bake sales passed the Senate with 17 Senators voting “no” and one voting “present.” I am not sure which is worse, that 17 Senators thought bake sales should be prohibited or one who could not seem to make up their mind.

The bill to free the bake sale now awaits Gov. Terey McAuliffe’s signature. His wife is a proponent of the nutrition standards, so it will be interesting to see if he signs it.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Harrison Godfrey — March 5, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,105 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Harrison Godfrey(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) “Sorry young feller, but Arlington is an expensive, highly desirable part of the region. You’re just going to have to start farther away, then move up after you’ve saved money, the old fashioned way” – Online commenter “JMosesBrowning”

A month ago, I penned an op-ed for the Washington Post wherein I observed how Arlington is becoming an increasingly unaffordable place for young professionals to live. That is a change from when my mother moved here in the mid-1970s.

That’s bad news for “millennials” like me, but it’s potentially worse news for our County.

“JMosesBrowning” is one of many online critics who might be surprised by how much I agree with their sentiments. Like prior generations, Millenials are happy to start small, build equity, work hard, and climb the ladder. But Arlington seems to be missing a couple of rungs in the ladder.

When you compare median income for young professionals in DC against median rental and mortgage costs, we can barely afford to rent here, let alone buy. And that’s before you take into account student debt and wage stagnation.

The suggestion of critics that we “move farther away” creates more problems than it solves. Even setting aside the issue of regional sprawl, Arlington should want millennials to stay in the county. Young professionals typically pay more in local taxes than they use in services — especially those without school-age children.

Moreover, when millennials move “farther away,” they move much farther, to urban centers with which Arlington must compete.

Rather than migrating to exurbs like Leesburg or Bowie, millennials are moving to urban centers like Baltimore, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Between 2000 and 2010, all three of these cities saw greater percentage growth in the population of people ages 25 to 34 than did the Washington metro area.

Indeed, millennials are eschewing a car-centric suburban/exurban lifestyle. As of 2011, fewer people age 16-24 had driver’s licenses than at any point in the past 50 years. We instead seek out “dense, diverse, interesting places that are walkable, bikeable, and transit served” according to Joe Cortright, an urban economist who heads the City Observatory think-tank.

This shift isn’t a passing fad. Rather, it represents a growing recognition of unaffordable and unsustainable aspects of car-based living. In fundamental ways, this preference is a return to earlier migrations to cities. Over the course of American history, suburbanization was actually an aberration. In many ways, we’re being “old fashioned.”

The importance of this shift to Arlington’s competitiveness cannot be overstated. One need only look to Marriott’s announced relocation from Bethesda of its corporate headquarters. Marriott’s CEO cited the need to attract talent — “as with many other things our younger folks are more inclined to be Metro-accessible and more urban. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will move to downtown Washington, but we will move someplace.”

With its density, educational attainment, schools, diversity and walkability, Arlington is well positioned to attract millennials and companies like Marriott that depend on a diverse workforce. Keeping those companies and workers will, however, require addressing housing affordability.

As federal dollars dwindle, the D.C. economy has actually shrunk. Arlington has felt the pinch, with almost 29 percent of office space in Rosslyn and 23 percent in Crystal City vacant. To counteract federal cuts, we must diversify. (more…)

by Peter Rousselot — March 5, 2015 at 1:00 pm 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast month, I wrote a column explaining why Virginia needs effective ethics reform. The Virginia legislature has adjourned without enacting it.

Why is this so hard for them? It’s because too many Republican and Democratic legislators continue to thumb their noses at the need for reform.

Here’s a small sampling of the attitudes they bring to the task:

Contrary to Senator Saslaw, ordinary citizens do believe you can legislate ethics. Saslaw’s variation on the discredited refrain, “you can’t legislate morality”, misses the point. Here’s Princeton University’s Micah Watson in a piece titled “Why we can’t not legislate morality.”

One can no more avoid legislating morality than one can speak without syntax. One cannot sever morality from the law. Even partisans of the most spartan libertarian conception of the state would themselves employ state power to enforce their vision of the common good…The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is which vision of morality will be enforced…

Many other states have passed much tougher ethics laws than Virginia. That further undermines what our legislators have just done.

The 49-page ethics bill that the legislature passed at the eleventh hour of the session includes a whole host of loopholes, including:

  • The current ethics law sets a cumulative annual aggregate $250 cap on gifts by a lobbyist to any single legislator. But, unbelievably, the new ethics bill’s $100 cap is not cumulative. That means that a lobbyist can give an unlimited number of $99 contributions to a single legislator during the year, so long as each gift is given at a different point in time. Example: $99 per day for each of 365 days per year = $36,135 of legal gifts to any Virginia legislator (Call it the “buy your own Rolex” provision).
  • A lobbyist can pay the full cost to fly a legislator from any location in Virginia to Richmond — so long as the purpose of the trip is official business. The cost of the trip is not counted against the $100 cap.
  • The bill fails to establish an Ethics Commission with the power to issue subpoenas, assess fines for violations, and make referrals to the Attorney General or other prosecutors.

Conclusion

Those politicians who say they are proud of this latest ethics bill are deluding themselves and the public.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Peter Rousselot — February 26, 2015 at 3:00 pm 637 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe county manager and the Arlington Public Schools superintendent have released their proposed budgets. The County Board also advertised a proposed tax rate for calendar year 2015 that could be as much as 1.5 cents higher than the current rate.

Some of the major issues impacting the ability of citizens to participate effectively in public discussions about these budgets are the county’s funding level of APS and the real estate tax rate.

County Funding of APS

Under the “revenue sharing principles” adopted by both Boards in January:

The amount of the transfer to APS will initially be based upon the same percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget. As budget deliberations continue, additional ongoing funding for critical needs identified by APS, including enrollment growth, will be a top funding priority.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget identifies what the superintendent says are critical needs, which would cost $13.6 million more than the amount of shared revenue to which the county manager’s proposed budget commits. In addition, the superintendent’s budget identifies a set of specific APS budget cuts that are the ones the superintendent recommends if the County fails to provide APS with any additional revenue.

Citizens should participate in a constructive debate about whether the particular set of proposed cuts the Superintendent recommends are the best way in which to make up the identified $13.6 million shortfall. But, the Superintendent should be commended for proposing:

  • a specific set of cuts with dollars attached, and
  • a budget that reverses the growth trend in per-pupil expenditures

As I have written previously, the “percent of local tax revenue transferred to APS in the County’s last adopted budget” was too low. For that reason, combined with APS’s projected explosive enrollment growth, the county should provide the entire additional $13.6 million to APS.

The County Manager’s proposed budget fails to identify, specifically, the dollar savings that could be achieved by cutting particular programs or services.

The County Board should direct the county manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in county programs and services that could be made in order to make up the $13.6 million APS shortfall.

Real Estate Tax Rate

Property tax bills will rise in CY 2015 even if the County Board adopts the same property tax rate as last year’s.

The County Board should direct the County Manager to identify for the Board’s and the public’s consideration at least one — and preferably more than one — set of cuts in County programs and services that could be made if the Board votes to cut the real estate tax rate by 1.5 cents.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Mark Kelly — February 26, 2015 at 2:30 pm 833 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAfter campaigning last fall on his work to cut the tax rate by 1 cent, John Vihstadt voted to advertise a rate for 2015 that is 1.5 cents higher than last year. The voters could have rightly anticipated a 4-1 vote with Vihstadt voting no.

With the increase in assessments, the average homeowner is slated to see a tax increase of $266 on the real estate rate without a rate increase. If the Board adopts the rate increase, it would tack on an additional $87.

Some may ask, is 97 cents a day more too much to pay for everything we have in Arlington? A fair argument if we had not wasted so much money on boondoggle projects.

And, it ignores the fact that the average homeowner saw a $256 increase in 2010, $66 increase in 2011, $155 increase in 2012, $234 in 2013 and $223 in 2014. That would total $1,287 in annual tax increases in six years.

Think of it another way: cumulatively, the average homeowner will have paid an additional $3,987 from the six years of increases over 2009 tax levels if a rate increase goes into effect in April.

Sure, the Board does not have to implement a higher tax rate, but they have made no case that they need the extra money.

This leads to the second point. The County Board gave guidance to the County Manager to present a balanced budget that did not raise the tax rate. Something Ms. Donnellan managed to do with relative ease.

Yet, by advertising a higher rate, the Board has once again ignored its own guidance. Board Chair Hynes acknowledged this fact, but said the Board unanimously wanted more flexibility. That is code for, if we think you will allow us to take more of your money, we would be happy to spend it.

While the case can easily be made for another tax rate cut, the likely outcome is that the Board will reshuffle some priorities and leave the rate unchanged. They can claim they made some “tough choices” and in the end “saved” the taxpayers some money by not raising the rate.

But, none of the current Board members will face the voters again until 2016. Hynes and Tejada will not face them again at all. After the unanimous vote to advertise the higher rate, you just never know.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Larry Roberts — February 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm 587 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Larry RobertsThis week marks the second meeting of the Arlington Facilities Working Group, a diverse group of 24 Arlingtonians putting together the “Arlington Community Facilities Study — A Plan for the Future.”

The group and its charge were developed jointly by the County Board and School Board. The County (Mary Hynes/John Vihstadt) and School (James Lander/Nancy Van Doren) Boards designated members to interact with the group throughout 2015.

In addition, the group has a resident forum to promote monthly two-way communication between the group and Arlington organizations that designate forum members and alternates.

This collaboration by the two boards, while maintaining their respective and traditional roles, provides common ground to help solve classroom capacity needs and is an important step forward for Arlington. Addressing the high priorities of school capacity and instruction will require resources that neither board has on its own.

The School Board is facing a lack of land, limited debt capacity, and no independent access to tax revenues. The County has some available land, some ability to address debt capacity, and must determine how to balance the revenue needs of the Arlington Public Schools with the needs of those who rely on county government services in a time of increasing demand and limited support for additional taxes.

Arlington faced somewhat similar challenges in the 1970s and 1990s and in each instance the county came together to develop solutions that have moved Arlington forward.

In light of the continuing work of the 2015 working group and the upcoming formulation by County Board candidates of their platforms and priorities, we return to our interview with Joe Wholey, who chaired the mid-1970s initiative known as the Long Range County Improvement Program (“LRCIP”). Through that initiative, a divided County achieved a consensus that guided Arlington’s revitalization, growth and development through successive periods of Democratic-endorsed, Republican, and Democratic County Boards.

Progressive Voice: Did the LRCIP adopt a formal report?

Joe WholeyJoe Wholey: The committee on the Long Range County Improvement Program put forth recommendations, but it was the County Board that adopted the Long Range County Improvement Program. Board hearings about our work resulted in changes to the committee’s recommendations. I remember that Lyon Village residents were upset about tall buildings that would block the sunlight in the area. The County Board did not adopt what we recommended in the Clarendon area, but opted instead for less intense — and what turned out to be slower — development.

Clarendon would have been more like Ballston. The process showed that the committee did not have all wisdom. Citizen input led to the great restaurants and nice shopping that we have in Clarendon with a lot of pedestrian traffic at all hours. Results like that showed that the blend of analytical work and citizen input were both quite important to what the Board finally adopted.

Our work, and the Board report with regard to land use, led to sector planning. It became the foundation for what later came to be called Arlington’s “smart growth policy.” But also, we had never had a long-term capital budget before it was recommended by LRCIP. We also never before had a historic preservation ordinance.

The Board began implementing the report in 1976-78. After a new county manager took office and even after changes in control of the Board through elections, the plan remained in effect. New boards kept on implementing the plan over the years and decades. The County Board’s report based on LRCIP’s work and citizen input had staying power as a community consensus. (more…)

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