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Peter’s Take: Board Majority Hides Projects Sacrificed for Streetcar

by Peter Rousselot | July 24, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,708 views | No Comments

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 RousselotPrior to approving its latest Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), a bare majority of the Arlington County Board (Fisette, Hynes, Tejada) voted to deny the public access to critical information. The information they suppressed relates to new transportation projects that are being denied funding or delayed as streetcar costs continue escalating sharply.

The vote to suppress this information comes at a time that this same majority has sanctioned a $650,000 public relations campaign at taxpayer expense to promote the streetcar.

Both actions represent desperate attempts to refloat a sinking ship.

The CIP approved by the Board on July 19 documents sharp increases in streetcar costs as a percentage of Arlington’s total capital budget.

Two years ago, in the FY 2013-2022 CIP, the Columbia Pike streetcar was projected to consume 8 percent of the total CIP and the Crystal City Streetcar 6 percent, for a CIP total of 14 percent devoted to the two streetcars combined. Today, both projects have jumped in cost, and total 19 percent of the FY 2015-2024 CIP for the two streetcars.

In other words, just two streetcar lines totaling only 7.4 miles, consume 19 percent of our total Arlington capital budget, or nearly one out of five of our proposed capital spending dollars over the next 10 years. 

In an effort to determine what new transportation projects might be sacrificed in this streetcar sinkhole, Board members Vihstadt and Garvey in June asked County staff the following question and received the following answer:

Q. If we do not build a streetcar, for what can the money planned for the streetcar be used?

A. Providing alternative projects that could be funded if the streetcar is not funded would require significant additional analysis that a majority of the Board could direct staff to undertake.

Faced with this response, Vihstadt, seconded by Garvey, made the following motion at the County Board’s July 17 CIP work session:

I move that the County Board direct the County Manager to develop and prioritize a list of all Arlington transportation projects over the next 10 years, including information as to budget amounts, funding sources and by fiscal year, that could be funded if we cease all Arlington streetcar spending now (save for legal requirements) and do not move forward with either the Columbia Pike or Route 1 Streetcar projects.

Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada voted against the motion, and the motion was defeated.

With more than half a billion dollars on the line, the County Board majority has denied Arlington voters and taxpayers critical information they need to make informed decisions.

Why are they afraid of providing this information?

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.

Peter’s Take: Van Doren for School Board

by Peter Rousselot | July 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 478 views | No Comments

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 RousselotNancy Van Doren has announced that she plans to run in the special election for the seat on the Arlington School Board that will become vacant on Aug. 1 when Noah Simon resigns.

I support Nancy for the Democratic endorsement and for election in the special election to fill this seat.

Priorities

Among the priorities Nancy has promised to pursue as a School Board member are these:

Educational Excellence for All Students 

Academic success for each student is Nancy’s top priority. Students must leave high school prepared for higher education and success in our technology-driven global economy. Arlington Public Schools must consistently offer students the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of race, economic status, ethnicity, gender, language or disability.

The strategies Nancy will emphasize include:

  • Providing our highly-qualified teachers with the tools, training, and resources necessary to meet the needs of each student in their classroom.
  • Ensuring children develop strong reading skills by the start of fourth grade, when students begin reading for content.
  • Using proven approaches to close the achievement gap.
  • Providing all students with equal instruction time and the opportunity to study a second language, beginning in elementary school. FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) should be implemented in all schools.

 Making Room for All Students

  • Maximize the use of all existing space within our schools.
  • Creatively use space in and around the County to meet capacity needs. Consider renting vacant office space, using County facilities, increasing the use of the Career Center, increasing our partnership with area colleges, and using flexible scheduling and on-line classes, particularly at the high school level.
  • Build adequate, flexible classroom space through additions to schools or constructing new buildings, when and where necessary, within fiscal constraints.

County/Schools Collaboration

  • The School and County Boards and their staffs must integrate their long-range planning efforts so that together they can accommodate and fund the County’s growth within its overall budget.
  • Coordinate County resources shared by all residents, young and old: land, facilities, transportation, social services, and recreation.

Additional priorities that Nancy plans to pursue are available at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page3/cee5

Community Service

Nancy Van Doren is an education advocate with 10 years of experience as a parent, volunteer, and leader in Arlington Public Schools. You can access extensive further details at this link: http://www.nancyvandoren.org/#!page2/cjg9

Personal and Family Background 

Nancy has lived for 10 years in Ashton Heights with her husband, Jack Zetkulic, who is an educator and international consultant. They have four children:  Patsy, and Katie, who attend Washington-Lee High School; Annie, who attends Jefferson Middle School; and Matthew, a recent W-L graduate headed to the University of Virginia.

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.

Peter’s Take: Carla de la Pava for Treasurer

by Peter Rousselot | July 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 546 views | No Comments

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 RousselotOn July 7, Carla de la Pava was sworn in as Arlington County Treasurer immediately after the previous Treasurer, Frank O’Leary, resigned. She “plans to run in the special election, expected to be held Nov. 4, to fill out O’Leary’s term, which runs through December 2015.”

I support Carla for the Democratic nomination for Treasurer and for election in the special election to fill this position.

Carla has served as the Chief Deputy Treasurer of Arlington County for the last six years. During her service in this position, the Treasurer’s Office has established a record as one of the best in Virginia and the United States. Arlington’s tax delinquency rate stands at an all-time low of 0.41%.

According to outgoing Treasurer O’Leary:

Arlington is one of the few jurisdictions in Virginia that publishes its delinquency rate; O’Leary estimated most localities have rates 10 times that of the county.

Carla’s performance in collecting our taxes shines. At the same time, rapidly growing numbers of voters justifiably are concerned that their property tax bills — based on the tax rate set by the County Board – are the highest in Northern Virginia.

Carla also has an outstanding record of community service. She is actively involved with numerous community organizations, including Leadership Arlington (Class of 2010), the Arlington Civic Federation (Vice President) and Toast of Arlington. She is a member of the Arlington Committee of 100, Better Sports Club of Arlington, Vice President and Board member of the Arlington Soccer Association, Yorktown Patriots Football Boosters, and Organized Women Voters.

Carla graduated from Wesleyan University in 1981 with a degree in Economics. Her first job was in Corporate Banking in the Chicago and Atlanta offices of the Continental Bank of Illinois. In 1985, she earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. After obtaining her MBA, Carla went to work at The Price Company, which at the time owned and operated Price Club (now Costco). This experience inspired Carla to develop a lifelong interest in operations and management.

Carla is married to Mark Dola, a life-long Arlingtonian. Their three sons, Christopher, Michael and Peter Dola, attended Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Williamsburg Middle School and Yorktown High School.

To learn more about Carla de la Pava, you can access her campaign website here: http://carlafortreasurer.com/

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.

Peter’s Take: Fisette Sends Wrong Message on Uber

by Peter Rousselot | July 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,318 views | No Comments

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 County Board Chair Jay Fisette sent the wrong message last month about highly popular ride sharing services like Uber:

In the end, Fisette said Arlington would participate in a state study into the Uber issue, but didn’t say what kind of perspective the county would bring to the table. “As a locality, we don’t really have a point of view except that we have to enforce the law,” he said.

As I have explained, Arlington lacks the authority unilaterally to change the law under which ride sharing services like Uber operate. Under Virginia’s “Dillon Rule”, changing the law has to be done at the state level. But, Arlington certainly could have a “point of view” — if it chose to have one. Arlington could bring its perspective to the table.

Arlington knows how to develop a point of view about issues over which it lacks authority to change the law. Look no further than the point of view the County Board (including Fisette) unanimously adopted four years ago on the subject of enforcement of federal law regarding undocumented immigrants.

In a September 2010 press release announcing its decision to direct the County Manager to look for ways in which to withdraw from enforcement of the federal “Secure Communities” program, the Board stated:

[T]he “Secure Communities Initiative will create divisions in our community and promote a culture of fear and distrust of law enforcement that threatens public safety and makes communities less safe,”

[...]

[I]t is not the role or the desire of the Arlington County Police Department to take on the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration laws. [The Board] reaffirmed its support for existing County policies and procedures that prohibit racial profiling and protect crime victims and witnesses.

The Board concluded by explicitly calling on the U.S. Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform.  Even though it ended in failure, I applaud Jay Fisette and the County Board for the stand they took in 2010. They sent the right message to large numbers of Arlington residents who felt threatened by the federal program in question.

Today, vast numbers of Arlington residents say that ride sharing services like Uber are wildly popular for many good reasons. Jay Fisette ought to be demonstrating the same degree of empathy for these residents that he demonstrated four years ago for undocumented immigrants.

This is the message Jay Fisette should send on ride sharing services like Uber:

I am enthusiastic about the many benefits to Arlington customers that ride sharing services like Uber offer. I am committed to doing everything I can to enable these services to thrive.

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.

Peter’s Take: AWLA Offers Innovative Services

by Peter Rousselot | June 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 430 views | No Comments

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 I have periodically, today I’m profiling a nonprofit that offers valuable services to the Arlington community: the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (AWLA).

AWLA provides animal adoption and community programs to the northern Virginia and D.C. metropolitan area, as well as animal rescue and control services within Arlington County. AWLA is committed to its mission to improve the lives of animals through sheltering, community services and humane education.

More than 3,000 companion animals benefit each year, with 92 percent of sheltered animals in 2013 either being adopted into loving homes, reunited with their owner, or transferred to one of many of AWLA’s network of rescue and rehabilitation partners.

Many of you already may be familiar with AWLA’s basic services, but AWLA also offers some innovative programs about which you may not be as familiar. These include baby ready pets, safekeeping (companions in crisis), and the veterinary assistance program.

Baby Ready Pets

Baby-Ready Pets is a free, two-hour workshop to help expectant families in northern Virginia prepare their home and their pets for the arrival of the new baby. This workshop:

  • Provides tips and strategies for making the home a safe and (relatively) stress-free experience for all, and
  • Has been endorsed by the ASPCA.

After the workshop, participants may call or email follow-up questions if they need additional support.

Safekeeping (Companions in Crisis)

If you are an Arlington County or Falls Church City resident, and you are experiencing a health or housing crisis (i.e. unexpected hospitalization, house fire), AWLA can shelter your pet on a short-term basis, through the Safekeeping program, giving you time to make other arrangements.

Pets are permitted to stay for up to two weeks, and there is no restriction on the number of times people can use the service. The pet’s owner is required to contact AWLA on a weekly basis during the safekeeping period to check on the wellbeing of their pet, and is permitted to visit their pet during the League’s regular visiting hours.

Veterinary Assistance Program

Through the Ross-Roberts Emergency Veterinary Assistance fund, the League makes small, no-interest loans to low-income pet owners who need emergency veterinary care for their pets but cannot afford the costs up-front. AWLA doesn’t cover expenses for basic pet care (shots, check-ups, teeth-cleaning) or chronic, life-long conditions (i.e. diabetes, heart condition, allergies). The owner agrees to pay back the loan in monthly installments and to have their pet spayed or neutered if it is not already.

Arlington is fortunate to have AWLA offering these services in our community. For more information about these programs, visit www.awla.org

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.

Peter’s Take: Healthcare for Virginia’s Poor

by Peter Rousselot | June 19, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 532 views | No Comments

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 January column, I urged Virginia state legislators to find bi-partisan common ground to expand Medicaid coverage. So far, they have failed to find it.

In that earlier column, I quoted with approval from a Virginian-Pilot editorial warning that the cost of resisting Medicaid expansion would be ruinous:

Virginia lawmakers can preserve the financial health of hospitals across the commonwealth, save state tax dollars, strengthen local and state economies, extend managed health-care to nearly 400,000 people, many of them working poor, and recoup nearly $10 billion in federal taxes paid by Virginians over the next five years.

Or they can continue the reckless political theater destined to grow more costly with every passing year, a play that will cause a financial crisis at hospitals all across Virginia.

After spending six months, and engaging in thousands of hours of bitter partisan conflict, we now have arrived at the ruinous situation about which the Virginian-Pilot warned. Every Republican in the Virginia legislature voted last week against Medicaid expansion.

Most Republican legislative leaders who fought expansion argued it was the wrong policy solution. That surely CANNOT be because opposition to Medicaid expansion is some kind of core Republican Party value. Republican Governors in eight states (Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio) have either signed or supported legislation expanding Medicaid. Republican Governors in two other states (Indiana and Pennsylvania) have led alternative efforts to provide healthcare for the poor.

In Pennsylvania, a Republican Governor has made a health care reform proposal that would improve access to Medicaid for hundreds of thousands of residents through a premium assistance model. Up to 520,000 eligible low-income residents would receive federal subsidies to purchase private coverage through Pennsylvania’s federally run insurance exchange. Federal Medicaid expansion funds would be used to help eligible residents purchase commercial insurance.

Republicans in these other states have demonstrated greater leadership than Virginia Republicans in successfully addressing an enormous public policy problem. By carefully studying the Republican solutions in these other states, Virginia Republican legislative leaders should be able to find the right solution for Virginia.

While a few Virginia Republican legislators have expressed interest in providing a better healthcare solution for Virginia’s poor, most Republican and some Democratic legislators still seem focused on “reckless political theatre”.

Our failure to act may be better than some of the proposed solutions, but it surely is not better than the status quo.

If Republicans and Democrats in eight other states could act under Republican governors, then Virginia should be able to act under a Democratic Governor.

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.

Peter’s Take: Virginia DMV Shoots the Customer

by Peter Rousselot | June 12, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,105 views | No Comments

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 RousselotARLnow.com reported last week that the Virginia Deptartment of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ordered Uber and Lyft to stop doing business. The DMV claims these companies’ operations violate current Virginia law. The Arlington Police Department says it plans to help DMV enforce its orders.

Uber and Lyft immediately responded saying they would continue to do business because their operations do NOT violate current Virginia law.

It would be foolish to try to resolve this dispute by spending months or years in court arguing whether Uber and Lyft have the right to do business under current Virginia law. For the reasons I explained in my May 29 column, current Virginia law is hopelessly out of date. Our law needs to be changed regardless of whether it currently authorizes Uber and Lyft to do business. My earlier column outlined the kinds of changes needed.

Those changes require action by the Virginia legislature. That action ought to be undertaken on a bi-partisan basis. Although individual legislators and officials in the executive branch ought to be starting now to develop this new legislation, it is unrealistic to expect a final new law to be passed and signed until the 2015 legislative session. Colorado has just enacted a new law on this subject. That law can guide Virginia’s efforts.

Did the DMV do the right thing by ordering Uber and Lyft to cease operations entirely until Virginia revises its laws?

NO!

Despite what VA DMV says, it is far from clear that current Virginia law prohibits Uber and Lyft from doing business entirely. It is clear that they are offering services that many customers find incredibly popular and valuable. A brief review of the comments posted to last week’s ARLnow.com story illustrates this.

For example, with over 80 up votes, Kyle Weathers says “this is laughable. You are basically killing jobs. Not to mention the fact that Uber delivers a FAR SUPERIOR service than any cab I have ever taken in Virginia.” With over 40 up votes, Paula Ledbetter Graves reports “I’ve used Uber X many times and have always had a great experience.”

Instead of issuing cease and desist orders, the DMV should be bending over backwards to:

  • help draft new laws that will enable Uber, Lyft, and traditional cab companies to operate on a  level playing field that regulates only things like safety, insurance and background checks, and
  • encourage Uber and Lyft to continue to do business in the meantime, while assuring that consumers have sufficient protections.

Since current law is ambiguous, the DMV should foster these innovative new businesses, not put unnecessary roadblocks in their path.

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.

Peter’s Take: Customer Über Alles

by Peter Rousselot | May 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,477 views | No Comments

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 RousselotThis month, ARLnow.com posted two stories about fee-based rides in Arlington.

The stories and comments highlighted a controversy featuring charges and counter-charges among:

* traditional taxicab companies like Arlington Red Top Cab;
* newer providers like Uber and Lyft; they offer apps allowing smart phone-equipped riders to schedule rides from drivers who use their own personal vehicles to provide those rides, and bill the rider’s credit card;
* customers of both kinds of providers, and
* drivers for both kinds of providers.

Fortunately or unfortunately for the partisans on various sides of this controversy, Arlington right now cannot adopt the ideal framework to address this situation. Under the so-called Dillon Rule, Arlington needs explicit authorization under Virginia law to develop a comprehensive solution.

Arlington currently is saddled with a hopelessly outdated Virginia regulatory framework which specifies only how Arlington should regulate traditional taxicab companies. This existing framework needs a radical overhaul. Current Virginia law also does not give Arlington the comprehensive authority needed to regulate the newer providers.

What Arlington can do now is develop suggested principles and minimum standards that it would like the authority to use to regulate all providers of fee-based rides.

To the maximum extent possible, this new framework should eliminate:

  • caps on the numbers of individuals, companies, or vehicles that could provide the services;
  • maximum or minimum fees that could be charged, and
  • other purely economic regulations and barriers to entry or exit.

However, the new regulatory framework should set minimum standards and requirements in areas such as:

  • safety;
  • liability insurance;
  • background checks, and
  • full disclosure of terms and conditions of service, preferably on a new website that would enable fair, side-by-side comparisons, among all providers.

D.C.’s recent experience with these issues offers a cautionary tale. The D.C. City Council, instead of taking the approach I recommend above, ended up granting its traditional taxicab companies a monopoly on one part of the business, while giving Uber a monopoly on a different part of the business. Two monopolies are not better than one.

Arlington County should develop a blueprint for a new 21st century approach to these issues. That blueprint should give the highest priority to customer service and value. Then, Arlington should ask our legislative delegation to take our blueprint to Richmond, and seek bi-partisan support for the new state laws Arlington needs to implement that blueprint.

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.

Peter’s Take: McAuliffe Right on Women’s Health Clinics

by Peter Rousselot | May 22, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 523 views | No Comments

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 Rousselot

Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently announced the appointments of five new members to the state Board of Health. He directed the Board to review controversial regulations it adopted to regulate all Virginia women’s health clinics at which first trimester abortions are performed.

Gov. McAuliffe made the right decision.

Background

In 2011, Virginia passed a new law authorizing the Board of Health to adopt stricter regulations for these women’s health clinics. The regulations require the clinics to comply with construction standards used for inpatient hospitals. They force the clinics to have hallways that are of specific widths, provide locker rooms for staff members, new ventilation systems and larger parking lots.

Recognizing that the regulations would cost millions to implement, the Board initially grandfathered existing women’s health clinics from their applicability. The Board’s initial decision was wise when you consider that the new law and regulations do not cover other outpatient facilities, such as those performing oral or plastic surgery, even though the latter facilities engage in medical procedures of comparable risk.

After the Board’s initial decision, the Board came under intense pressure from then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to reverse it. Cuccinelli wrote to Board members, telling them that they had exceeded their authority, and warning them that if they persisted in their decision to grandfather existing clinics, he would not defend them in any subsequent lawsuits. He also warned them that they might be personally liable in any such suits.

Faced with these pressures, the Board reversed itself, and proclaimed that existing clinics would be subject to its new regulations. If the Board sticks to this course, most or all existing clinics are likely to shut down. Five have already closed. When clinics close, women are also denied access to other services, such as testing for sexually transmitted infections and cancer screenings, or they are forced to travel longer distances to get these services.

Cuccinelli’s goal from the beginning was to shut down as many of these clinics as possible.

What’s Next?

The Board could simply vote to re-affirm that no existing clinics are grandfathered. In that case, the clinics and their patients are no worse off than now. The Board could vote to go back to its original decision to grandfather existing clinics. Those who believe the Board lacks power to do that could challenge the Board in court. If such a challenge succeeds, the clinics and their patients again are no worse off than now. But, if such a challenge fails, then the clinics and their patients will be much better off than they are now.

Gov. McAuliffe deserves credit for standing up for women’s health and reproductive choice in Virginia.

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.

Peter’s Take: New FAA Rules Imperil Grandiose Aquatics Center

by Peter Rousselot | May 15, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,309 views | No Comments

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 Friday, ARLnow.com posted a story that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is considering “a policy change that would lower the maximum allowable building heights near airports.”

That story mentioned a new bill proposed by Rep. Jim Moran and Congressional co-sponsors that would require the FAA to adopt its new building height restrictions through a “standard rulemaking procedure” rather than through a “proposed policy.” The difference between these two alternatives is that the standard rulemaking procedure involves consideration of more factors and evidence than the proposed policy approach.

Regardless of which procedure the FAA ultimately has to follow, it is not clear from either the ARLnow.com story or from the FAA formal announcement precisely what the FAA’s new height limitations will be, nor which geographic areas of Arlington will be subject to them.

But, it is clear that the Aquatics Center site at Long Bridge Park is directly in the airport’s flight path. Therefore, there is a reasonable possibility that the height of the roof of the currently-proposed design for the Aquatics Center — a height needed to accommodate the King’s Dominion-style water slide – will have to be lowered to meet the FAA’s proposed new height restrictions.

Given the FAA’s commitment to lower its height restrictions, it would be irresponsible for Arlington to proceed to a bid process for construction of the Aquatics Center without a binding agreement with the FAA that Arlington’s final design for this facility has FAA approval.

To the best of my knowledge, Arlington County does not have such a binding agreement with the FAA. If the FAA refuses to provide Arlington with such an agreement, the FAA’s refusal ought to be yet another reason to scale back the current Aquatics Center design. With so many other competing priorities, like the schools capacity crisis, “the community does not ‘need’ this gold-plated Aquatics Center, and we should not move forward with it even if we could do so within the whopping $80 million price tag we thought it would cost” as recently as last year.

Moreover, the continually-escalating construction costs for the current Aquatics Center design (now well north of $80 million) will be followed by the even more rapidly escalating annual operating costs of the current design (up from $450,000 per year only thre years ago to $3.8 million per year at last count).

The current Aquatics Center design is fundamentally flawed because it contains too many extravagant features. It’s time substantially to scale back the current design, and develop a new design for a sensible pool and recreation center at Long Bridge Park.

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.

Peter’s Take: For Virginia DREAMers, Partisanship Should Take a Back Seat

by Peter Rousselot | May 8, 2014 at 12:30 pm | 721 views | No Comments

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 early January, I wrote a column about bipartisan legislation (the Virginia Dream Act) introduced by Arlington Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) and Fairfax De. Tom Rust (R). If enacted, their bill would have granted certain Virginia students whose parents are undocumented the right to attend Virginia colleges at in-state tuition rates. Their proposed legislation failed to pass.

Last week brought a flurry of partisan charges and counter charges about a legal advisory opinion issued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Herring concluded that even under current Virginia law, some Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program qualify for in-state college tuition rates.

Herring’s legal opinion generated a storm of controversy over such issues as whether Herring:

  • as Virginia’s Attorney General, has the authority to do this,
  • should have waited for Virginia to pass a new law on this subject,
  • is the left’s answer to Ken Cuccinelli, or
  • did this in an effort to help him win the Democratic nomination for governor in 2017.

The students themselves have been lost in these fusillades of partisan sniping. Here are some of them:

Rodrigo Balderrama

Rodrigo is a senior at Wakefield High School in Arlington. He was born in Argentina, and came to the United States at the age of 6 with his mother and grandmother. They lacked proper documentation. Rodrigo has been admitted to the University of Virginia, but cannot afford in-state tuition.

Mauricio Segovia Pacheco

Mauricio was brought to Virginia when he was 4 years old. His parents, a cook and a waitress, are undocumented immigrants from Ecuador. Mauricio graduated with a 4.6 GPA from Lake Braddock H.S. in Fairfax, and was admitted to UVA. He can’t afford to attend UVA if he has to pay the out-of-state tuition rate.

Jung Bin Cho

Jung Bin Cho emigrated with his parents from South Korea in 2001 on visas that turned out to be invalid. His family never obtained proper immigration papers. After graduating from high school in Springfield, where he played football and dreamed of a high-tech career, he was admitted to Virginia Tech. However, he is ineligible for in-state tuition and cannot afford out-of-state tuition rates.

Rodrigo Balderrama, Mauricio Segovia Pacheco, and Jung Bin Cho are entirely innocent bystanders who are watching while too many partisan adults fight over whether they are entitled to attend Virginia colleges on the same financial terms as other in-state Virginia students.

It’s time to show them some compassion, set aside our partisan differences, and find a solution to this inequity.

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.

Peter’s Take: Promises and Pitfalls of the Wilson School Decision

by Peter Rousselot | May 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 1,359 views | No Comments

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 week, a joint press release from Arlington County and Arlington Public Schools brought welcome news: APS has decided to retain its Wilson elementary school property in Rosslyn for possible redevelopment as a new secondary school.

The decision regarding the Wilson School site holds promise because it is smart and was announced collaboratively. Pitfalls lie ahead because this is only one of many decisions still to be made relating to school overcrowding.

BACKGROUND

Since 2006, APS enrollment has grown by more than 4,850 students, or 26 percent, reaching a current level of 23,717 students. By 2023, APS enrollment is projected to exceed 30,000 students, a 63 percent increase since 2006.

APS is in the midst of developing various alternative options for the capital spending that will be required to address this enormous enrollment growth. While final capital spending estimates remain to be published, it is a safe bet that this will involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars raised by selling a series of bonds over the next ten years.

WHAT’S NEXT

Capital spending to address school overcrowding must be a top priority for both Arlington County and APS. But, it cannot be a top priority unless the County Board’s current spending priorities are changed to focus on core services.

The rosy environment of 2000-2006, in which money was pouring in over Arlington’s transom, and County Board members hatched unwise capital projects like the Aquatics Center and the Columbia Pike streetcar, is barely visible in Arlington’s rear view mirror.

We face a starkly different environment in which APS enrollment is projected to increase 63 percent from 2006 levels, while commercial office vacancy rates hover near 20 percent. We cannot address this new environment simply by paying lip service to the proposition that spending on schools is “a priority.” In order to provide the money to make schools a priority in a fiscally responsible way, we must acknowledge that some capital projects need to be dropped or deferred.

If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

THE VIHSTADT EFFECT

In the comments section to ARLnow.com’s story on the Wilson School decision, there was a debate about the extent to which John Vihstadt’s election might have influenced that decision. There is a more important point here.  Vihstadt has a remarkably deep civic résumé documenting his involvement in both County and schools issues over a 30-year period. Vihstadt campaigned on a platform of breaking down the silos between the County and the schools, and concentrating our spending on core services like schools.

Vihstadt is in a unique position to bring a fresh perspective to the many school overcrowding challenges that lie ahead. He can help the County and APS to address those issues collaboratively to achieve the best outcomes.

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.

Peter’s Take: Reforms Needed in County Staff Salaries

by Peter Rousselot | April 24, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,470 views | No Comments

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 week, the County Board Chair scrambled to fix a mistake he made in proposing a last-minute budget adjustment. This episode demonstrated carelessness in making critical decisions that have substantial human and financial consequences. It also highlighted the need for long-term reforms in county staff compensation policy.

In his original explanation for how the county was going to pay for a 1 percent property tax rate cut, the Board Chair — without any consultation with stakeholders or the public — proposed paying for this rate cut by eliminating step increases for county employees. He suggested replacing that system with a 1 percent annual cost of living increase and a one-time $500 bonus. After entirely predictable protests by affected employees, the Chair backed down.

Every issue and trade-off involved in this quickly-retracted proposal could have been aired months ago at the outset of the budget review process. Why wasn’t this proposal raised then?

“Live Healthy,” who says he is not a county employee but is an Arlington property owner, posted thoughtful comments to one of ARLnow.com’s stories about this episode. He writes:

I am consistently shocked at what a low value this county places on its most important asset: The employees. Employees are not a cheap set of tools that you use until they wear out and break, then replace them.

This County Board should really be ashamed of themselves for the way they treat their most valuable asset. Annual spending priorities constantly seem to focus on pet projects. Meanwhile the core services: police, fire, medical; water, sewer, streets; schools; economic development; tax collection; courthouse civil services; and others often take a back seat.

A 1% increase does not even keep pace with inflation over the last year. Looking historically, it seems that Arlington has not kept pace (even close) with inflation for many years. That is with no mention of the frozen merit increases that the employees have endure[d]. In other words, with each year that passes, our county employees’ paychecks are worth less than the year before.

It’s time for the Arlington County Board to stop pandering to interest groups and stop funding pet projects at the expense of those who make them possible. Start a multi-year process to catch up with inflation, restore merit increases, and pay our employees a salary commensurate with their hard work and dedication. 

I agree with “Live Healthy.” The County Board’s flawed approach to staff salary compensation is yet another illustration of why the Board’s budget priorities are wrong for Arlington.

In the case of staff salaries, as in so many other areas, the Board needs to focus on Arlington’s core services. 

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.

Peter’s Take: Virginia Flunks Ethics Reform

by Peter Rousselot | April 17, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 479 views | No Comments

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 RousselotOne of the five most revealing stories of 2013 was the ethics scandal that engulfed the administration of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wannabe successor Ken Cuccinelli. In the wake of that scandal, there were high hopes that Virginia would pass meaningful ethics reform in 2014. Sadly, Virginia flunked this opportunity.

Virginia legislators from both parties are responsible for the toothless “ethics reform” legislation that did pass in 2014. Their legislation “tightens conflict of interest rules on themselves just enough to say they did something to clean up Virginia’s soiled reputation.”

What did they do? Why did it do nothing to clean up Virginia’s soiled reputation?

The ethics legislation that passed this year imposes a $250 cap on gifts to Virginia legislators. Sounds good, right? Wrong. The $250 cap applies only to gifts made by registered lobbyists. It does not apply to gifts made directly by any individual or business that is not a registered lobbyist. Thus, the kinds of gifts made to McDonnell and Cuccinelli by disgraced businessman Jonnie Williams (e.g., shopping sprees to New York, Rolex watches, reimbursement for weddings of legislators’ children) are all permitted under the new ethics legislation just as they were before.

In fact, an early analysis of this legislation by ProgressVA showed that if it had been in effect in 2012, it would have prohibited NONE of the 756 gifts made to Virginia’s legislators in that year.

This legislation also “substitutes window-dressing for muscular enforcement by establishing an ‘advisory’ state ethics panel — with no staff or budget — instead of a commission with the resources and authority to investigate alleged violations.”

What role did Gov. Terry McAuliffe play regarding ethics reform this session? Where he had the unilateral power to do it, he put in place a strong ethics reform package for himself, his staff, and state agencies. This executive branch reform package establishes a $100 gift cap without the ridiculous loopholes in the bill passed by the legislature.

Some have criticized Gov. McAuliffe for failing to exercise his power to propose substantive amendments to the ethics bill passed by the legislature. That criticism is unfair. Given the huge bi-partisan support for this legislation, there was no reasonable prospect that the governor could have obtained any significant substantive changes in it.

Conclusion

The legislature thoroughly humiliated itself by what it did. The governor could serve no constructive purpose by heaping further humiliation on top of that.

For this “reform,” the Virginia legislature deserves a bi-partisan grade of “F.”

Give Terry McAuliffe a “B+.”

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.

Peter’s Take: Voters Not Buying What County Board is Selling

by Peter Rousselot | April 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 1,688 views | No Comments

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 Tuesday’s County Board election, Arlington voters rendered a decisive verdict on the budget priorities of the current majority on the Arlington County Board. The verdict: fundamentally change your budget priorities, or we’ll elect others who will.

Independent John Vihstadt won his landslide victory by uniting a broad-based, multi-partisan coalition that shared his policy positions:

  • prioritize spending on Arlington’s core government services (e.g., overcrowded schools, fire, police, sensible transit), and
  • end spending on wasteful vanity projects.

County Board Budget Priorities Repudiated

Vihstadt made his criticisms of the County Board’s budget priorities (e.g., $310+ million unnecessary Columbia Pike streetcar, $80+ million gold-plated Aquatics Center) the focus of his winning campaign. Democrat Alan Howze lost because he refused to repudiate those budget priorities. Howze hoped — falsely — that he could win simply because he was the Democratic candidate.

Implications for Arlington Democrats

Before the election, a few Democrats boasted that even if Vihstadt won the special, he would lose in November. Why? Because even if Howze’s policies on issues like Arlington’s budget priorities were repudiated by Arlington voters in the spring, Howze would win in the fall because he would get enough more votes from Democrats who care only about state or national issues. The size of the Vihstadt tsunami casts serious doubts on this hoped-for scenario. Much worse, these Democrats’ reasoning reflects an unbecoming smugness about the irrelevance of local policy to Arlington Democrats.

As a proud Arlington Democrat myself, I reject their reasoning. I do care — a lot — about the policy positions on local issues of any candidate seeking an Arlington local office. As Tuesday’s election shows, lots of other Arlington Democrats agree with me. Between now and November, we’ll all be aggressively explaining why to other Arlington Democrats who didn’t vote Tuesday.

What about the politics of it? What are the implications for the Arlington County Democratic Committee if it continues to nominate or endorse candidates for County Board who have policy positions on local issues that are both wrong and very unpopular? This is politics 101: those implications are highly negative.

Voters to ACDC: this time, we didn’t buy what you were selling either. It’s not because you don’t excel at the electoral mechanics, or because we don’t like you personally, or because someone is feuding with someone else. It’s because policy positions on local issues matter. Don’t be insular like the current County Board majority which anointed Alan Howze and pushed him over the finish line in the ACDC caucus. Their principal goal is to perpetuate their own budget priorities.

The County Board’s budget priorities are dragging ACDC down.

It’s time for ACDC to do some serious soul searching. Get out of your bubble and into the community. Don’t become zombie Democrats.

There are some great, positive lessons that ACDC can learn from this campaign.

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.

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