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by ARLnow.com — October 23, 2014 at 3:45 pm 1,461 0

Police Chief Doug Scott at a community forum on policing

Could another Ferguson happen in Arlington?

Yes it could, admitted Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott, but it’s not likely.

Scott and other local law enforcement and community figures were speaking at a community forum on policing last week at Wakefield High School when he was asked by WJLA’s Jeff Goldberg whether a police shooting — like the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. — could happen and spark unrest here. Yes, he said candidly, but Arlington County Police has been doing its best to ensure it does not.

For one, said Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, Arlington officers are well-trained in the proper use of force.

“The level of professionalism, training… and the degree to which Arlington police exercise restraint in terms of the use of force,” make a controversial police shooting very unlikely, she said.

However unlikely, though, Scott said the department was prepared for a Ferguson-like shooting, in which the suspect turns out to be unarmed and conflicting witness statements are given. ACPD would stay in close contact with the local community in the wake of the shooting, would release information in a timely manner and would thoroughly investigate the shooting, he said.

“Part of my charge as the Chief of Police and working with members in the community, is to assure them that we’re going to do a comprehensive, objective and fair investigation,”said  Scott. “We’re going to put the officer on restricted duty. [He or she] is going to be compelled to give us a statement. There are going to be two investigations, a criminal investigation and an administrative investigation.”

Scott said the Ferguson police department seemed to be “trying to hold something back” after the shooting. “I think that those kind of things fueled the mistrust.”

Speakers at a police forum at Wakefield High SchoolDespite the police department’s efforts to build trust with minority communities — like Nauck, Arlington’s oldest African American neighborhood — speakers at the forum expressed concern about policing in the community. Some accused specific officers of being too aggressive, while others said that officers don’t spend enough time trying to be a part of the community.

“We should not be prisoners in our own house. Were were born and raised here,” said one Nauck resident, who said she was concerned about police “harassing” her sons. “You don’t go to my church. You only come out what, during Community Day? How are we supposed to trust you?”

“The way they speak to us is unacceptable,” said another woman. “The way they treat us in Nauck is not right.”

One young woman said she gets pulled over by ACPD at least once a week because she’s mistaken for her boyfriend, the co-signer on the car, whose drivers license is suspended. Another speaker said Nauck residents get stopped for riding bikes without helmets.

“Yet you put bikes without helmets in here,” he said, referring to Capital Bikeshare stations.

After the forum, Chief Scott said it’s clear that ACPD has more work to do.

“I thought I had a pretty good pulse on some of the issues that are out there in the community,” he told ARLnow.com. “I heard some things tonight that really have made me pause and think we have work to do in some of these communities in terms of trust in the police department.”

by Ethan Rothstein — October 16, 2014 at 5:40 pm 1,693 0

Arlington police carThe Arlington County Police Department needs to hire more Latino and bilingual officers, according to one community group.

BU-GATA, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants rights and Latino issues, issued a statement during ACPD’s community outreach meeting last night asking the ACPD to step up its hiring practices so its department reflects the demographics of the community it serves.

“[The] lack of Latino, Spanish-speaking police officers is a major problem,” the group’s statement says. “In Arlington where 15.3 percent of the population is Latino, only 6-8 percent of the police force is Latino.”

The group charged that the lack of a “Latino, go-to liaison within the police department” and the lack of professional interpreters at community meetings have helped foster a “lack of trust between police officers and community members.”

Speaker from BU-GATA at the Arlington County Police Department forum Oct. 15, 2014“There continues to be great concern in the Latino community about rising numbers of Latinos being stopped and arrested by Arlington County police,” BU-GATA states. The ACPD only compiles demographic statistics based on “white” or “black” arrests, with Latinos largely grouped into the white demographic, an issue BU-GATA says should be rectified for a broader analysis of why Latinos are arrested at a higher rate than other demographics.

BU-GATA analyzed arrest data from 2011, it said, and found that Latinos made up for 23 percent of all those arrested in Arlington, based on “Spanish last names.” Many of the arrests were for one of three crimes: drunk driving, driving without a license and drinking in public.

Arlington County Police Chief Doug Scott responded to the call for hiring more Latino officers with an acknowledgment that the ACPD can do a better job.

“Our numbers of Latino officers may not be exactly where we want to be, but more and more we’re recruiting officers who are bilingual, so we’re trying to address some of those issues,” Scott said. “We do our best to have a police department that reflects the community that we serve.”

The ACPD offers incentives for bilingual officers, but BU-GATA said it does not do enough outreach to find bilingual candidates. The police department also has a standard of two years of college for its officers, which it recently has decided to waive for some with military or prior law enforcement experience.

BU-GATA said Arlington could create a “basic patrol” position, which other jurisdictions have, in an effort to hire more Latino officers who don’t qualify for the education requirements. After being hired, the “basic patrol” officers could then be reimbursed for tuition costs, the group proposed.

Scott said that although the numbers don’t fully match up demographically, he’s pleased with the department’s recruitment and diversity efforts. He said federal and local law enforcement agencies in the D.C. area are all competing to recruit Latino officers.

“Our numbers are pretty good in terms of the demographics of Arlington and the demographics of our police department,” he said. “We do quite a bit in terms of targeted recruiting for more African American officers, Latino officers, Asian Pacific officers. In fact the county manager gave an award to our recruitment staff for meeting our goals.”

by Ethan Rothstein — October 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,135 0

ACPD Chief Doug Scott at the WCA meeting 3/13/14The Arlington County Police Department wants to build its relationship with the community in light of the national unrest surrounding the events in Ferguson, Mo., this summer.

To help strengthen the community’s trust in the ACPD, the department is hosting a forum this Wednesday at the Wakefield High School auditorium (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

“With recent national media coverage of law enforcement and community relationships, the Arlington County Police Department feels it is imperative to continue to build relationships through open dialogue,” ACPD said in a press release. “The Arlington County Chief of Police, along with Commonwealth Attorney, County Sheriff and other distinguished panel members, will conduct a community forum focusing on the community’s trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Police Chief Doug Scott, Sheriff Beth Arthur, Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos, NAACP Arlington President Elmer Lowe, community activist Andres Tobar, who is the director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, and ARLnow.com founder and editor Scott Brodbeck.

WJLA’s Jeff Goldberg will moderate the panel, which will hold a discussion with topics including use of force, community policing and the use of police body cameras, according to the police department. After the discussion, the panelists will answer audience questions.

The event is free and open to the public. ACPD will be live-tweeting the event at its Twitter account for those who can’t attend.

File photo

by Ethan Rothstein — October 3, 2013 at 10:00 am 1,264 0

Those who live in and around Crystal City questioned the noise and safety impacts of the planned Crystal City streetcar at a public forum last night (Wednesday), but many in attendance seemed generally pleased with the county’s presentation.

County officials gave a presentation explaining the current vision for the streetcar now that the planning process is underway. The six-stop transit system will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar in Pentagon City to the north, and will go as far south as Four Mile Run, running primarily along Crystal Drive.

One change to the design since the last community forum on the streetcar earlier this year is moving the southbound streetcar alignment directly adjacent to Jefferson Davis Highway, and off Clark and Bell Streets, as had been previously planned. The northbound and southbound tracks will both be on Crystal Drive from S. Glebe Road to 18th Street before diverging.

About two dozen residents were in attendance, most of whom asked questions of Senior Transportation Planner Matthew Huston, who gave the presentation. Huston said the impacts to environmental and cultural resources in the surrounding area were close to nonexistent, and said the noise generated is consistent with a busy urban, commercial area like Crystal City. Some attendees seemed unconvinced, however.

Route 1 transit / Crystal City streetcar map“My understanding of the Crystal City Sector Plan is a better balance between residence and commercial,” said one woman in the audience. “You’re putting a streetcar in an area that’s largely residential. I think you need to consider treating the residents not as office buildings.”

Many of Huston’s answers were simple acknowledgments that residents’ concerns would be addressed in the ongoing environmental study, which will continue until next spring.

“We consider residential buildings sensitive users,” Huston said. “We specifically look at the impact to sensitive users in the environmental study.”

Other residents questioned the alignment — one wondered why it the streetcar tracks don’t run further along Jefferson Davis Highway, which he said would make it more accessible to the residents of Aurora Highlands to the west and would reduce what he sees as a potential safety hazard at the intersection of Crystal Drive in 12th Street.

Still, opposition to the streetcar was relatively subdued, especially compared to some of the heated public dialogue over the Columbia Pike streetcars system.

“I’m pleased that they’re looking at all the right issues and asking the right questions,” said Crystal City resident Gerry Fuller after the forum. “There’s a lot of things they can’t do much about, like the width of the street… I’m in favor of any proposal to get people out of their cars. I think it’s the direction they have to go.”

Huston said “the assumption” is the Crystal City streetcar will connect with the Columbia Pike streetcar once both systems are complete, and that travelers will be able to ride from the Skyline section of Fairfax County to Four Mile Run with no transfer. Huston said the streetcar would be funded with a mix of state and local funds.

by Ethan Rothstein — September 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm 1,357 0

Rosslyn skyline at duskArlington County wants its residents to weigh in on the future of Rosslyn’s skyline, public spaces and transportation at a forum this Saturday.

The Arlington County Board is considering ways to update the Rosslyn Sector Plan, which determines the county’s policy in future development to the neighborhood. The Realize Rosslyn Community Workshop will run Saturday, Oct. 5, from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., at the Artisphere Ballroom (1101 Wilson Blvd).

The formal presentation will begin at 9:00 a.m. with breakfast and lunch served. Those interested in attending can register online. There will also be an open house from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Rosslyn Business Improvement District office at 1911 N. Fort Myer Drive, LL-10.

From the county’s press release:

Arlington County is asking the public to weigh in on planning concepts that will transform Rosslyn’s future built environment, public spaces and transportation connections at a workshop on October 5.

“We want Arlingtonians to get involved in reinventing Rosslyn,” said Arlington County Board  Chairman J. Walter Tejada. “This is an exciting opportunity to help us create a Rosslyn that is more vibrant and walkable, that has great public spaces and a better mix of homes and offices.”

Participants will be able to engage with project team members and neighbors on the emerging alternatives for the Rosslyn Sector Plan, and to review preliminary proposals and draft alternatives. The County is looking for guidance on:

  • Key decisions to translate proposed design ideas into an action plan
  • Bold and compelling options for the future of Rosslyn, such as:
    • Potential shape of the skyline and preservation of key view corridors
    • Possibilities for a new 18th Street corridor through Rosslyn’s core
    • Transformation of Fort Myer Drive and Lynn Street
    • New destinations for outdoor events, including a re-imagined Gateway Park and an Esplanade that will connect Rosslyn to the Potomac River

by ARLnow.com — September 26, 2013 at 9:15 am 1,156 0

Walkway at Reagan National Airport (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

Safeway Seeks New Developer in Bluemont — Safeway is looking for a new developer to work with for the redevelopment of its Bluemont store at 5101 Wilson Blvd. Developer Mark Silverwood pulled out of a partnership to build a new Safeway store topped by 160 apartments after Bluemont residents rejected it, saying the proposed building was too tall and would generate too much traffic. [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington’s Recycling Rate Reaches New High — The recycling rate in Arlington hit a new all-time high in 2012. The county’s recycling rate was 51.1 percent in 2012, according to the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality. [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Seniors Names Scholarship Semifinalists — Three Wakefield High School seniors have been named National Achievement Scholarship semifinalists. The scholarship program recognizes academic excellence among African American students. [Arlington Public Schools]

Affordable Housing Forum Tonight — Arlington County is holding a public forum on the topic of affordable housing tonight. Arlington residents are encouraged to attend and weigh in on the county’s affordable housing goals. The event is being held at the Navy League Building auditorium (2300 Wilson Blvd) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

by ARLnow.com — June 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm 2,761 0

Randal O'Toole (photo via CATO Institute)A noted streetcar critic will address a meeting of the Northern Virginia Tea Party on Tuesday.

The event is scheduled from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Westover Branch Library (1644 N. McKinley Road). Randal O’Toole, a transportation expert at the libertarian CATO Institute, will “speak about current transportation policy issues, including the Columbia Pike streetcar.”

O’Toole wrote the book The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths: How Smart Growth Will Harm American Cities in 2001, and published a policy analysis entitled “The Great Streetcar Conspiracy” last year. The analysis says municipal streetcar systems are being encouraged by the federal government and by “engineering firms that stand to earn millions of dollars planning, designing, and building streetcar lines.”

“Streetcars are the latest urban planning fad, stimulated partly by the Obama administration’s preference for funding transportation projects that promote ‘livability’ (meaning living without automobiles) rather than mobility or cost-effective transportation,” O’Toole wrote.

“Based on 19th-century technology, the streetcar has no place in American cities today except when it functions as part of a completely self-supporting tourist line. Instead of subsidizing streetcars, cities should concentrate on basic — and modern — services such as fixing streets, coordinating traffic signals, and improving roadway safety.”

(Supporters argue that a modern streetcar system is a clean and efficient transportation solution that reduces traffic congestion and promotes economic development.)

Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public. “Extensive free parking in the evening is available at the rear of the adjacent elementary school,” according to the event invitation.

Photo via CATO Institute

by ARLnow.com — May 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm 0

Panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle SchoolRep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and a group of like-minded panelists made the case for immigration reform Tuesday night at a community forum in Arlington.

Entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Out Broken Immigration System,” the Moran-organized forum attracted several dozen attendees to Kenmore Middle School’s auditorium. The congressman and the panelists told the audience that immigration reform would energize the economy, bring in additional tax revenue, and enable immigrants to live a more productive and fulfilling life.

In his opening remarks, Moran said bipartisan immigration legislation that’s currently being crafted in the Senate has a better shot at becoming law than any other recent attempt at immigration reform.

Rep. Jim Moran, speaking at a panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle School“The possibility for reform today may be better than it’s ever been,” he said. “Now is the best time in recent memory for enacting comprehensive immigration reform. But the enactment of reforms is by no means guaranteed… in a Congress that can’t seem to agree on anything of consequence.”

Moran said immigration reform is particularly important in Northern Virginia, where 27 percent of the population is foreign-born. (Of that foreign-born population, 38 percent of come from Latin America, 36 percent from Asia, 16 percent from Africa and 10 from Europe, according to statistics cited by Moran.)

Panelists made moral and economic arguments for immigration reform.

Patrick Oakford, who researches immigration issues for the liberal Center for American Progress, said that legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States could boost the economy by $832 billion over 10 years while raising the wages paid to immigrants.

Walter Tejada, speaking at a panel discussion on immigration at Kenmore Middle SchoolArlington County Board Chair Walter Tejada said immigration reform would help cash-strapped local governments. It would also help police departments, he said, by facilitating better cooperation with an immigrant community that’s currently fearful of law enforcement.

“The future of our nation is brighter by providing a path for citizenship,” Tejada said. “We really need to get behind and support our leaders in Congress.”

Other panelists tried to shoot down some of the arguments against immigration reform.

Kristian Ramos of the New Policy Institute, pro-immigration think tank, said immigration reform won’t open the floodgates to Mexican immigrants. He said that Mexico’s growing economy has helped to significantly reduce the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States by providing more jobs and opportunities in Mexico. He also pointed out that that crime is down near the U.S.-Mexico border.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — May 1, 2013 at 9:55 am 632 0

Rep. Jim Moran's panel discussion on gun violence at Washington-Lee high schoolTwo months after holding a raucous forum on gun violence, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) is planning a public forum on another hot-button topic.

On Tuesday, May 14, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road), Moran will host a forum entitled “Building a Stronger Nation: Reforming Our Broken Immigration System.”

Just as the gun violence forum featured panelists that largely shared Moran’s gun control views, the immigration forum will feature panelists who favor liberal immigration policies: County Board Chair Walter Tejada, plus representatives from the Center for American Progress, the National Immigration Law Center and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“The panel discussion will outline systemic problems in our current immigration system and layout the comprehensive reform plans that are currently under consideration in Congress,” said a press release for the event.

“There are an estimated 10 – 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America, the majority having settled here more than a decade ago,” the press release said. “Reforming the broken immigration system to resolve the status for these individuals has the potential to boost the entire U.S. economy, adding over $800 billion to the national GDP over the next decade and creating over 100,000 more jobs per year.”

by ARLnow.com — April 10, 2013 at 9:25 am 1,471 0

A tree in bloom in Rosslyn

Streetcar Forum Tonight — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a forum tonight entitled “Streetcar for Columbia Pike: Are the Benefits Worth the Costs?” The forum will be moderated by Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey and the scheduled speakers are Arlington Chamber of Commerce Chairman David Decamp (speaking in favor of the streetcar) and ARLnow.com columnist Peter Rousselot (speaking against the streetcar). The event will take place at 8:00 p.m. at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road). [Arlington Committee of 100]

Pricey Streetcar FOIA Request — Local fiscal watchdog Tim Wise is decrying the price tag attached to a Freedom of Information Act request he made regarding the Columbia Pike streetcar project. The county says Wise’s wide-ranging request will cost $2,858 to process. More than 80 percent of that cost would go to AECOM, a consultant working on the county’s transit program. [Sun Gazette]

Record Temperature Possible Today — The official high temperature at Reagan National Airport might be tied or even broken today. The high temperature at DCA for today, April 10, is 89 degrees, set in 1922. [Capital Weather Gang]

Mary Marshall Scholarship Applications – The Arlington County Commission on the Status of Women is now accepting applications for the 2013 Mary Marshall Memorial Scholarships. The $1,500-2,000 scholarships are intended for Arlington high school graduates who intend to attend Northern Virginia Community College and pursue careers in public service. [Arlington County]

by ARLnow.com — April 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,535 1 Comment

Bottled water (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 3:10 p.m.) County Board member Jay Fisette is starting his “personal crusade” to discourage bottled water use in Arlington, by moderating a public forum later this month.

Fisette will moderate and George Mason University’s Arlington campus will host “a special public forum to discuss the environmental and economic implications of single-use plastic water bottles,” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15. The forum, entitled “Say NO to Bottled H2O,” will be held at GMU’s Founders Hall Auditorium (3351 Fairfax Drive).

Screen grab of County Board member Jay Fisette discussing Gov. McDonnell's transporation planIn addition to a panel discussion with environmental and water experts, the event will feature a screening of the documentary “Bag It,” which critically explores the use of single-use disposable bags. The forum is being co-sponsored by GMU, Arlington County, The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, Arlington Public Schools, Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, Marymount University and the George Mason Environmental Law Society.

The forum is also the kick-off for a new grassroots organization called “Tap in Arlington,” which asks residents to “choose to drink tap water instead of purchasing single use plastic water bottles.”

The organization says 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce billions of single-use plastic water bottles annually, and less than 30 percent of those bottles are recycled. Bottled water is 2-4 times the price of gasoline, according to statistics cited by Tap in Arlington.

Fisette said the effort reflects the public commitment he made on New Years Day to bring attention to the use of bottled water and its environmental impacts.

“I raised the issue on January 1, stating that I would begin a ‘personal crusade’ to reduce the use of plastic water bottles,” Fisette said. “Well, the crusade is about to begin.”

by ARLnow.com — March 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm 1,971 190 Comments

(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Four members of the Arlington County Board, along with county staff, made their best cases for streetcars in Crystal City and along Columbia Pike Wednesday night, to a largely skeptical audience that peppered them with questions about why the streetcar would be superior to buses.

The streetcar townhall meeting at Kenmore Middle School attracted a near-capacity crowd of up to 500 people, according to one county staff estimate. Based on the relative volume of applause at various points, the crowd seemed to be almost 2:1 against the streetcar.

The Board, like the audience, was divided. On one side was Chris Zimmerman, Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, and Walter Tejada, who said the streetcar “encourages people to get out of their cars, and encourages developers to invest,” while also increasing ridership capacity.

“Streetcars are at the center of the vision for the Route 1 and Columbia Pike corridors,” Tejada said. “Buses alone cannot provide the transit capacity and capability that we need to transform these areas. By themselves, buses cannot serve the projected ridership.”

Sitting at the end of the County Board table on stage was Libby Garvey, who garnered applause as she led the charge against the streetcar and in favor of an enhanced bus system. Garvey said she was concerned about the streetcar’s price tag ($250 million for the Columbia Pike line alone) and about disruptions to small business during construction.

“I believe Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will get as much development as a streetcar, maybe even more,” Garvey said. “You can get the same benefit for a lot less money, which means that there’s a lot of money left over to actually help small businesses. My biggest concern is [the construction process]… no matter what we do, people will not be able to get to those small businesses, and they can’t survive.”

Those points were countered by county staff, who that said studies have shown that fixed rail attracts more investment, that BRT without dedicated lanes (like it would be on the Pike) does not attract development,  and that the rail construction process will take place in small sections that will only take about a month to complete. Staff also said that a survey of Pike residents indicates that nearly 20 percent of respondents would ride a streetcar but not a bus.

Garvey was skeptical, calling into question some of the studies done that supported the streetcar option over BRT.

“The statistics that are cited, it’s really fact of fiction,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest round of applause of the evening came during the nearly 90 minute question and answer session, when a resident asked about having a referendum on the streetcar.

“If this is such a good idea, why don’t you allow the county to vote on it?” one man asked. Wild applause, and a chant of “Vote! Vote! Vote!” ensued.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com — March 28, 2013 at 6:00 am 1,092 69 Comments

Public streetcar forumLast night’s Streetcar Town Hall meeting pitted neighbor against neighbor on the topic of the planned Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar systems.

The meeting, which was held at Kenmore Middle School, drew a near-capacity crowd estimated between 300 and 500 people. And while many opposing viewpoints were presented during the question and answer session of the event, there was one thing on which most people at the meeting seemed to agree.

Chris Zimmerman’s pay from AECOM seems pretty tiny compared to the scandal it generated.

Zimmerman was the subject of controversy in December when fellow Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey raised red flags about consulting work Zimmerman did for the Canadian division of AECOM, the construction, design and transportation conglomerate. The work, which Zimmerman disclosed, came at a time when the Board was considering adopting Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act, primarily for use on the streetcar project.

AECOM has had various contracts with Arlington County over the past few years, including some planning-related work for the streetcar project.

Chris Zimmerman speaks at the Streetcar Town Hall meetingDisclosure of Zimmerman’s work for AECOM fueled charges of “corruption” and became a talking point for streetcar critics — which led to the following question, asked by a resident Wednesday night.

“I’m sorry that I have to ask, but how is it not an ethics violation for a member of this board to be employed by a company that has financially benefitted from this project?”

“I believe that was aimed at me,” Zimmerman quipped. He then explained that he discloses all of his outside employment, even though he really doesn’t do much of it.

“Although this is nominally a part-time job, I have not done much in the way of outside work of any kind,” Zimmerman said. “I mostly work for you.”

“I do a little bit of consulting, and I’ve tried to do that in a way that avoids things that I do here,” he continued. “So I have done work outside this metropolitan area. Most of what I do is not subject to disclosure or reporting under Virginia law. Nonetheless, I choose to disclose everything, because my commitment to ethics in this job is something that’s of great importance to me. I think that’s something you want your elected officials to do.”

Zimmerman went on to say that most of his outside work is for nonprofits and government agencies not associated with Arlington. At that point he addressed the AECOM job, and made a somewhat surprising revelation.

“I did one job last year over the course of two days, on an hourly basis, for one company,” he said of the AECOM gig. “My total billing for that was $510.”

The crowd laughed, then applauded that disclosure. The topic of AECOM did not come up again during the nearly hour and a half question and answer session.

Editor’s Note: A more thorough recap of the Streetcar Town Hall will be published later today.

by ARLnow.com — March 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm 826 30 Comments

County Board budget on 3/26/13Dozens lined up Tuesday night to ask the Arlington County Board to open the county’s purse strings just a bit more.

Most speakers at the 3 hour, 45 minute public budget hearing addressed the $9.3 million in proposed cuts to social programs, environmental initiatives, the arts and other county services — though some came to encourage additional cuts, namely to the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar.

The top issue at the meeting by speaker count was County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s proposed cut of the county’s Child Care Office. Some 16 speakers, wearing yellow in solidarity, asked the County Board to reconsider the $250,000 budget cut, which would deregulate small home-based child care operations and return the regulation of larger child care businesses to the state.

County Board budget on 3/26/13“These extra services and higher standards helped us feel comfortable about using an in-home daycare provider in Arlington,” said Michelle Sagatov, a full-time working mom with two kids. “The state does not have the same standards.”

Lauren Harris, the owner of Little Ambassadors Academy in Arlington, said she opposes the Child Care Office’s closure, even though reverting to state regulations could allow her to have a higher and more profitable child-to-employee ratio.

Affordable housing was another hot topic, with about 9 speakers urging the County Board to invest more in affordable housing. Donnellan’s proposed budget, which is currently under consideration by the Board, calls for a total of $32.3 million to go to affordable housing — or 4.9 percent of the County’s general fund budget (excluding schools).

Tim Wise, of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, countered that the county spends enough on “the so-called affordable housing special interest.”

Wise and about a half dozen other speakers also called for the Board to cancel the $250 million Columbia Pike streetcar project.

“As an Arlington county resident, I appreciate our services and our relatively low taxes compared to D.C. and Maryland and even Fairfax,” said Lee Schalk, who works at the National Taxpayers Unions “But with our current budget gap… we must pump the brakes on this quarter of a billion dollar streetcar project. Instead of throwing away our tax dollars on an inefficient form of public transportation, based on questionable assumptions… the local government should work to keep spending and taxes in check.”

Schalk called the streetcar a “boondoggle” and said he was “not amused by the $1 million bus stop” on Columbia Pike.

At least one speaker urged the County Board to press on with the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

(more…)

by Mark Kelly — March 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm 1,108 127 Comments

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

Mark KellyNext Wednesday evening, March 27, our County Board will tell us how they plan to move the Columbia Pike streetcar plan forward. The Board is refusing to allow for a full vetting of opposing views, and it remains to be seen if they will take unscripted questions. If you can get the microphone, here are some things you should question:

1) Will there be a dedicated lane for the trolley?

The answer, of course, is no. So, if a trolley breaks down during rush hour it will block traffic and cannot simply be moved onto a side street. Conversely, if a car breaks down in the trolley lane, the trolley cannot move around it.

2) Will buses still run on Columbia Pike?

Yes. The trolley will not replace buses altogether. In fact, if you want to go directly to the Pentagon, a bus will likely be your better choice. And, during rush hour, trolleys will likely be slowed by buses in front of them.

3) Are trolleys safe?

This is an open question. There are reports of these vehicles being knocked 25 feet off its rails by a vehicle the size of a small SUV.

4) Why did the county quickly move to consider a public-private partnership approach?

Most likely to avoid a public vote on a bond. The Board has indicated zero willingness to put this $250 million (a low estimate) project before the voters in any way, shape, or form. Under the public-private partnership model, the Board can allow private entities to put together the financing and avoid a public vote on a bond altogether. In exchange, Arlington would contribute a hefty down payment and sign a long-term contract to pay for the rest.

5) Why did the County Board never debate the merits of using bigger buses that have multiple entry doors and the ability to have curb level entry?

These buses could be done at approximately one-fifth the cost. In fact, if you look at the 2012 study on this very question, the buses would cost $193.2 million less up front, and $2.19 million less per year less for an ongoing annual subsidy. The same study estimates that just four percent more people would ride the trolley versus the bus. If you do a quick estimate, that means each additional rider costs the taxpayers about $175,000 up front, and $2,000 more per year.

There are many other questions that could be asked, from the likelihood of cost overruns, to the impact on existing businesses on the Pike, to playing hide the ball on a recent FOIA request, to bicycle safety, to the impact of Alexandria’s decision to scrap its light rail plans.

Even if the Board does not intend to take public input, those with an interest in the outcome should come to Kenmore Middle School and make their presence known.

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

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