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Letter to the Editor: Time to Return to the Original Arlington Way

Arlington County government's offices at 2100 Clarendon Blvd

The following letter to the editor was submitted by Dave Schutz, a 30 year Ashton Heights residents, regarding the Arlington Way.

Dear Editor: This letter responds to the Dec. 3 Progressive Voice column by Mary Rouleau.

Ms. Rouleau suggests that recent dissension in our community shows that the Arlington Way needs to be updated, and that it’s time for an Arlington Way 2.0. Ms. Rouleau says that the current practice, even though advisory groups generally advocate the progressive options which the County should follow, does not adequately inform residents to build the necessary consensus for these options. She says it is “…important that the County government provide the public with facts that support its decisions and a description of the public purposes served by the decisions… there is a wide information gap on that set of issues alone… the County has the resources to reach more households and should be a primary source of information for explaining the use of public assets and resources..”

I agree with Ms. Rouleau that there’s an Arlington Way problem, but what I see is that the problem is basically that we have left behind the original Arlington Way 1.0, are already in Arlington Way 2.0, and this has led to the turmoil we have seen.

Arlington Way 1.0 involved the Board seeking input from citizens who brought to an issue group a wide variety of perspectives, and the Board sought a way forward which would leave most residents satisfied with the direction. It was widely popular. About fifteen years ago we shifted to Arlington Way 2.0, in which the Board would recruit mostly-advocate advisory group members whose views at the outset matched those of the County Board majority.

Since the shift, there has been a growing buzz of rejectionist comments directed toward task force products, as well as doubt and opposition from budget-minded people in civic organizations. To complete the picture, the County Board can push necessary approvals for a proposal to well before or after an election, and then claim that it’s been legitimated. Anyone who did not work the process earlier has no standing, it’s the Arlington Way, and it can’t now be changed because the board has decided. I think it would be well for our community if we went back to Way 1.0.

WTOP quoted Chris Zimmerman (a man who will never again face the voters) in Feb. 2014: “In the end, each Board member has to make a judgment about what is best for the community… Leadership is the unflinching exercise of that judgment without regard to momentary swings in popularity. I believe that the great success Arlington has had is the result of the combination of leaders who actively engage the people; listen closely to what they’re saying; and then chart a path that they, in their best judgment, believe is most likely to result in the ultimate happiness of the community; and the willingness of the people in this community to let them do so.”

I think this exemplifies the mindset which has led to Arlington Way 2.0. As an example, on the trolley, Zimmerman and his acolytes badly overestimated the willingness of the community to go down the road they had identified, and their advisory process did not adequately warn them of what was about to happen. Likewise on a number of other issues, including the Natatorium. Though the Board majority gavelled through the Affordable Housing Master Plan last month, it had been the source of a great deal of dissension — again, Arlington Way 2.0.

Ms. Rouleau suggested that the County government organize to advocate for new progressive initiatives. I’m not convinced that this would guarantee success: it’s very much what was done for the Columbia Pike trolley, hundreds of thousands of dollars went into the Mobility Lab for pro-trolley propaganda and the under-fifty thousand dollar oppositional spending of the Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit carried the day.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor, please email it to [email protected] Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

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