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Progressive Voice: Tackling Big Needs Within Limited Space

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

By Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

Early this year, the County Board and School Board voted to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. I am honored to join 20 other Arlingtonians as JFAC members.

We are committed to finding innovative, practical and fiscally-prudent solutions to tackle Arlington’s big needs within our limited space reality.

Arlington’s population has grown approximately 1 percent per year over the past three decades and is forecasted to grow another 10.5 percent — 23,000 people — by 2026. School enrollment is also growing — projected within five years to exceed 30,000 students — which will increase capacity needs.

With growth comes increased demands for schools, fields, and other services, including essential operational and support services. Land to support these services is desperately needed.

I strongly believe that local initiatives such as JFAC that assess challenges and opportunities holistically can best promote community wellbeing in the years and decades ahead.

As I wrote last December, “local initiatives and solutions are stronger, more effective and efficient when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.”

Four months into my tenure as a JFAC member, I believe it is a model for how to incorporate multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs at a broad, strategic level.

JFAC’s Mission

JFAC’s overall mission is to help the Boards assess capital facilities needs, capital improvement plans and long-range facility planning options for residents, county government and our schools. It can provide feedback and recommendations to the Boards on key matters that impact the lives of all people who reside, visit, play, and do business in Arlington.

JFAC’s Progress

Under the effective leadership of chair Ginger Brown and vice chair Greg Greeley, JFAC has met monthly since January. We have received briefings from County and APS senior management about their short- and long-term needs assessments, and we have started to develop a list of community aspirations and goals for the next 30-40 years.

While the Boards asked JFAC to place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs, they have also directed JFAC to immediately undertake two time-sensitive matters: potential uses for the Buck site on N. Quincy Street; and what the County should seek as compensation from Virginia Hospital Center in return for the County-owned Edison site: cash, VHC property on Carlin Springs Road, or other VHC-owned properties, or a combination thereof. Two subcommittees within JFAC have been formed to dive more deeply into these time-sensitive matters.

By building a sufficient knowledge base about various needs and sites, we can proceed expeditiously to consider recommendations pertaining to longer range and big picture planning.

Public Involvement

JFAC wants to engage community members about two key goals: education and awareness about the facility and space challenges and opportunities facing the County; and insights from the public to help inform the JFAC’s recommendations.

Throughout March, JFAC hosted 10 community roundtables that provided a broad range of perspectives, interests, complaints, plans, ideas, ideals, visions, goals, and challenges. I had the pleasure of co-hosting a community roundtable at Washington-Lee High School on March 23.

It was great to hear the visions and ideas my neighbors shared on topics including traffic impact, recycling, bike lanes, park space, using I-66 air rights to create additional land, maximizing and/or co-locating County and APS facilities.

Arlingtonians can also get involved by:

  • Checking out JFAC’s website to stay updated on our meetings, presentations and reports;
  • Attending our monthly meetings; and
  • Joining us on May 24 (7-10 p.m.) for our interactive public forum at Wakefield High School, where you will have a chance to provide feedback on possible options JFAC members are exploring.

Next Steps 

Arlington can be a stronger as well as a more stable and equitable community by hearing from a broad range of voices. It helps when we get proactively involved in creating and developing public policies that will affect us for decades to come.

Our work at JFAC is just getting started. The right initial steps are being taken. Stay tuned and please assist us in ensuring we achieve our mission.

My own personal interest in JFAC’s success is that the better our community does, the better quality of life my family will have and the better educational opportunities our children will have in APS schools. My wife, our two kids and I are in it for the long-term.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC. In the Arlington community, he is a JFAC member, a member of the Board of Directors of the Dream Project, and served on the South Arlington Working Group.

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