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Progressive Voice: Local Solutions Are Stronger With More Community Participation

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

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

By: Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

Over the past six years we have lived Arlington, my wife and I have seen how our community gets involved proactively in the process of effecting positive change. That is why we both joined boards of directors of Arlington-based non-profit organizations that seek to provide a chance for success to underserved portions of our community.

We have further invested in our community by buying a home here and sending our 5-year old daughter to an Arlington public school. Once he is older, our 1-year old son will also attend an APS school.

Given the outcome of the recent presidential election, I strongly believe that local initiatives and solutions throughout our country will be important in determining the wellbeing of our communities in the years to come.

Local initiatives and solutions are more effective when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.

Recently, our elected officials, the people’s representatives, on the Arlington County Board and the Arlington County School Board decided to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) as an advisory body jointly appointed by both Boards. This action is the type of significant step forward in providing a way for encouraging multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs to be addressed at a strategic level.

The overall mission of JFAC is to provide input to the Boards on capital facilities needs assessment, capital improvement plans and long range facility planning for both the Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools.

In accordance with this mission, JFAC will have the ability to provide recommendations and feedback to the Boards on many key matters that will have an impact on the lives of all people who reside, visit and do business in Arlington.

The Arlington County Board in early November provided some specifics about the intended functions and scope of JFAC:

  1. Review the APS and County needs assessment reports prior to their presentation, receive and review public input on them, make recommendations to the respective Boards on each report and provide input on the development of the CIPs.
  2. Review both CIPs prior to their adoption, receive and review public input on them and make recommendations to the respective Boards on the adoption of each CIP.

In performing these reviews as a jointly created advisory commission, JFAC should identify and carefully consider partnership opportunities between County and APS to maximize public benefit. Examples of partnership opportunities include, but are not limited to, co-location, joint or shared use, adaptive reuse and efficiencies in construction timing.

  1. Review periodic updates from County and APS staff on trends and forecasts affecting the community, including economics and revenue, population and demographics, school enrollment, student generation factors, and development activity. This information will inform JFAC’s recommendations on capital facility needs.
  2. Place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs based on analysis of the latest trends, forecasts and service delivery models. Big picture, visionary thinking is encouraged, and JFAC should be a forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely.
  3. Partner with staff on facilitating broader community engagement on facilities issues, including hosting fora and public comment periods on both individual siting decisions and longer-term planning.

The mission, functions and scope of JFAC affords an opportunity for the kind of local initiatives and solutions that I think are so necessary in the wake of November’s presidential election.

In this regard, I was inspired by Mary Hynes’ recent Progressive Voice column in which she wrote about her “Thoughts After a Difficult Election” and particularly her paraphrasing the Prophet Micah: “We are called to act with justice; we are called to love tenderly; we are called to serve one another; to walk humbly with God.”

Regarding serving one another and walking humbly, I remain committed to moving from the sidelines to the center of public policy debates in my community. My goal has been to get involved in ensuring traditionally underserved voices are part of public policy decision-making processes in Arlington.

JFAC would afford just such an opportunity were I chosen to serve. Whether or not I am chosen, I hope all JFAC members will consider the importance of those less heard voices in our community deliberations.

We can be a stronger and a more stable and equitable community when all voices of Arlington are heard; when all of us proactively get involved in how public policies are developed; and when we hold each other accountable for the short-term and long-term impacts of the decisions made.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington-based non-profit organization Dream Pr

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