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County Board Candidates Debate on Kojo Show

With the Arlington County Board primary fast approaching, Democratic candidates Libby Garvey and Erik Gutshall took to the airwaves in their final debate before voters head to the polls on Tuesday.

The candidates went on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU-FM radio show, The Politics Hour, Friday afternoon.

Some of the topics covered included the capacity crunch in county schools, affordable housing and the ongoing battle with aircraft noise.

The full debate can be viewed above. Here are some highlights:

Garvey on what she wants voters to know about her time serving Arlington 

“I think over the past 20 years I’ve done a pretty good job serving Arlington. Fifteen years on the School Board help make our schools among the best in the country. And in my 4 years on the County Board I’ve done quite a bit to make our government more responsive and more transparent. One of the things we just started to do was video streaming our work sessions. Up until then if you wanted to watch the board actually getting work done at work sessions, you had to sit in the room and that was hard for a lot of people to do.”

Gutshall on why he’s running

“I’m running because I think I’m better qualified to make sure that we are meeting the challenges that we face today with solutions for tomorrow.

We’ve got to make long-term strategic investments. We have a capacity crisis in our school that’s in our sixth year and we still don’t have a plan for getting out in front of rising student enrollment. We have to make sure that we’re making investments in our transportation infrastructure and we’re dragging our feet in moving forward with the capital improvement plan for doing that.

We’ve got a major issue in Arlington County of housing affordability. It’s the issue that’s going to define our time, our day. We are not moving forward in the way that we need to and the way that I believe Arlingtonians want to in order to make sure that the middle class does not get squeezed out of Arlington.”

Garvey on her long-term plan for handling the school issue

“My long-term plan is to be supporting the School Board. I’ve been on the County Board for four years. That’s really the School Board’s job to come forward to us with plans.

I will say that little over a year ago, the School Board came to the County Board asking to build a school on the Thomas Jefferson site. Four of my colleagues unfortunately thought that it needed more of a community process. I was the one vote to go ahead and move forward with that. A year later, the whole board moved to move forward and we lost a whole year in the process. I have always been supportive of moving our schools forward and getting the work done.”

Gutshall on balancing the seat numbers with the growing student population

“I would hope it wouldn’t wait until I took office on January 1 to move forward with the implementation of the Community Facilities Study. Moving forward, what we need to do is we need to make sure that we’re having a conversation with the School Board and we’re going to miss the opportunity on this CIP now. We need to move forward on laying out a comprehensive plan where all seats, elementary, high school, middle school, all neighborhoods, north, south, east and west are accountable.”

Gutshall on housing and development

“What we have here is a problem that’s created by our success. Everybody wants to be here, that’s a good thing. Rising property values, that’s a good thing. But we need to make sure that we are keeping an eye on what we can do for the problem and risk of squeezing out the middle class. What I’ve been talking about is what’s called the missing middle: the idea where you have medium density, not the high rise density of our Metro corridors and not the low density in our single family neighborhoods, but in between that, the missing middle for example along Lee Highway and Glebe Road and other major arterials served by transit where right now you might see a lot of old strip malls, used car lots, basically underutilized land.

We can look at our zoning ordinances. We can open up opportunities for developers to come in and create different housing choices for young families just starting out, for seniors who want to age in the community.”

Garvey on housing and development

“I don’t think there is a disagreement. We adopted an affordable housing master plan last year and we’re working on implementing that. I was just at the groundbreaking yesterday for Columbia Hills, which is a project that will have 229 affordable units when it is complete. We’ve been moving forward on that.

Recently, when our staff asked us about implementing the plan, they said they wanted to move forward on accessory dwelling units, brand new flats. The Board actually said no, that’s not what we need to concentrate on. We need to concentrate on our zoning and what we can do to preserve the existing affordable housing that we have. In the area of Westover right now, there are a number of buildings that are affordable and they’re getting bought up and turned into townhouses, that’s our concern.

We need to look at rezoning and we need to look at ways of encouraging our partners who build affordable housing to be able to purchase them and keep them. I am totally committed to this. I talk about an economic ladder which I think any healthy community has and it has the bottom rungs all the way to the top for both housing and living. You need to support that ladder.

One of the many things we also need to look at which the government can do is not just housing. People who are having trouble affording their housing are also having trouble affording transportation and childcare and I think we need to make Arlington affordable for living and I’m also working on trying to find more ways to support childcare and improve transit so people can get around without a car.”

Gutshall on airplane noise

“We do have a citizens advisory commission on that and I think they work very hard. We are in constant negotiations with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and its about regional compromise and making sure that the community is heard but we understand the economic importance of the airports.”

Garvey on airplane noise

 “I’ve held a couple of community meetings to get the information out there there. That actually prompted MWAA to start a meeting. One of the things that’s helped is that we cut back on the MD-80s. They were the worst, they’re flying some of them out of National but we’d like to cut them way back. They make a lot of noise and this is a huge issue. It will take a while.”

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